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Tuesday, October 8, 2013
It pains us to report that the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development may be about to miss a golden opportunity to strengthen our state building code and save money for Virginia homeowners while protecting our environment. The issue is whether the board will require improvements in energy efficiency for new residences built in Virginia. In our view, the board is headed in the wrong direction.
Virginia’s sister regulatory bodies in Maryland and the District of Columbia jumped at this chance to save energy, homeowners’ money and reduce unnecessary pollution. But the Virginia board has tentatively decided not to include the improvements recommended by the International Code Council that would increase building efficiency through a “whole house” solution, integrating all elements of home efficiency in the state building code revision it’s working on now.
As advocates for energy efficiency, we wanted you to know what’s going on in this regard in Richmond. We suggest you weigh in personally right away in support of inclusion of these new energy efficiency requirements in the state building code, just as Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill did on Sept. 12. You, too, can let your views be known to the Virginia board by sending them to Stephen W. Calhoun, Department of Housing and Community Development, Main Street Centre, 600 E. Main Street, Suite 300, Richmond, VA 23219.
Here’s why we think these building code provisions are worth fighting over:
Buildings — including the homes in which we live — use 40 percent of the energy we consume in Virginia. Taking steps to increase energy efficiency is the least expensive and easiest way to provide for Virginia’s energy needs. It makes available supplies go further without having to import more oil and build more coal-fired and nuclear power plants.
It decreases the bad environmental and health impacts of traditional fossil fuel energy sources — think mountaintop-removal coal strip mining and the mercury, acid rain and greenhouse gas pollution associated with those sources.
Doesn’t it make more sense to help homeowners save about $200 a year on energy costs by requiring that new homes be sealed to reduce heating and cooling losses; improving the efficiency of windows and skylights; increasing insulation in ceilings, walls and foundations; and reducing wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts, rather than continuing to build more traditional power plants?
That’s exactly what adoption by our state of the national model code energy efficiency standards would accomplish. Such an increase in energy efficiency would stabilize Virginia homeowner energy costs and ensure that generations to come will enjoy long-lasting energy and cost-saving improvements that protect our health and the environment.
One specific provision worth mentioning in your letter is the need to require mechanical duct testing and blower door testing to ensure that a new home is properly sealed. It is impossible to measure air flows accurately without an objective test, but the state board currently is insisting on allowing visual inspections to be used.
The broad economic and public health benefits for Virginia of adopting the national model energy standards include:
n benefits that far outweigh costs;
n elimination of the need to build more power plants with associated rate hikes;
n reduced health costs because of reductions in air and water pollution from fossil fueled plants;
n reinvestment by homeowners and consumers of energy cost savings in other products and services;
n reduced funding assistance for households struggling with high energy bills.
Energy efficiency investments made at the time of home construction are far more cost-effective than trying to improve efficiency later through retrofit programs.
We in Roanoke are leaders in energy conservation at the local level, and we think our state should be, too. For example, in Roanoke, taxpayers are eligible for a 10 percent tax reduction for five years if new or existing homes are built or retrofitted to achieve an energy savings equal to 30 percent greater than the current building code. We are proud of the fact that city of Roanoke facilities have achieved an 11 percent energy reduction during the past eight years even though the building footprint has increased by more than three percent during that time.
Finally, we note that energy efficiency is the most affordable path at the state’s disposal to address our long-term energy supply challenges, which are certain to grow in the coming years. We solicit your help to win adoption of the model energy standards by the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development. Their adoption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, could achieve as much as a 27.4 percent gain in energy efficiency for Virginia’s residential buildings, and Virginia homeowners could save an average of $5,836 over a 30-year period.
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