El Paso County has the opportunity to save home and business owners substantial sums of money, and pour millions of dollars into the local economy if they follow the lead of counties all across the U.S. and adopt a modern energy code for new building construction. However, the local Housing and Building Association (HBA) is fighting hard to gut and weaken the new code with local amendments.
The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department (PPRBD) which serves all of El Paso county, currently operates under the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Having passed on adopting the 2012 IECC, PPRBD is now working to adopt the 2015 IECC. This code is a national effort and the culmination of years of building science analysis, field studies, and input of numerous stakeholders, including the home building industry. In a cold weather climate zone such as El Paso County where greater than 40 percent of building energy goes to space heating, the life cycle cost savings are large, and demonstrated with real world data of regions that have adopted the new code. Additionally, given the tight relationship between building efficiency, comfort and safety, the 2015 IECC enhances comfort and improves indoor air quality. Further, an improved code provides a significant contribution to Colorado Springs Utilities' energy efficiency goals, which keeps utility rates lower for ratepayers. It also helps the region meet the goals for sustainable energy and other topics set forth in the region's guiding document: Looking to Our Future - Pikes Peak region 2030.
However, what seems like an obvious path to providing more affordable, comfortable and healthy housing and commercial businesses is being challenged by the Housing and Building Association (HBA) due to the added cost of construction to comply with the code, and PPRBD is set to adopt the HBA amendments that seriously degrade the code. This focus on the initial cost of construction, ignores the significantly reduced cost of ownership for the home and building owners.
A comprehensive study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory of the cost-effectiveness of the residential provisions of the 2015 IECC Code showed that the increase in construction costs in moving from the 2009 to the 2015 IECC is offset by energy savings to the resident after only 3.9 years in our climate zone. Homeowners would realize a positive cash flow in less than one year. Further, a detailed analysis by the town of Parker (population 50,000), showed that their move from the 2009 IECC to the 2012 then 2015 IECC created an economic benefit of $1.2 million in commercial and residential energy savings.
Clearly, a move to an unmodified 2015 IECC does not put home builders out of business, nor make housing unaffordable. The proof is all along the Front Range: Pueblo County, Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder have all successfully adopted the 2015 IECC without amendments, and the communities are reaping the benefits of lower energy costs and healthier, more comfortable buildings.
The El Paso County Regional Building Commission and Board of Review will meet this month to consider and approve the proposed amendments. Public comment on this matter are being accepted at PPRBD.org/codes/codechanges.aspx until Oct. 17. If you agree that the greater good to the community outweighs the benefits to a specific industry, then make your voice heard in the public comments, and by contacting your City Council Member and County Commissioner.
For an understanding of the key specific amendments currently proposed by PPRBD, they are detailed below:
- Allowing 67 percent greater air leakage than the code allows. This avoids the need to add $350 to $800 mechanical ventilation for fresh clean air, but increases polluted attic and wall cavity air entering the building. It also increases the risk of wall cavity mold and mildew.
- Removing the requirement for independent third-party building air leakage testing, relying instead on visual inspections. However, more than three decades of building diagnostic testing shows that visual inspections are insufficient and miss many hidden leaks through wall and attic penetrations.
- Eliminating the requirement to isolate (lower cost) open-vent gas furnaces and water heaters from the conditioned building. Because these appliances draw combustion air from the building, they require the installation of two large open ducts to the outside for combustion air. But, these ducts rob the building of significant heat energy, and create cold winter drafts. Modern, but slightly more expensive direct vent appliances pull combustion air from the outside, not the building.
- Eliminating the requirement for insulation along the perimeter of on-grade concrete slabs. Yet, building science clearly shows a tremendous energy loss through slab perimeters to the outside shallow ground.
- Allowing the use of continuously running, versus on-demand, hot water circulation pumps even though more than ten years of Department of Energy data shows significantly more energy consumed by pump energy than in hot water saved.
The 2015 IECC without these amendments will slightly increase the cost of construction. However, the public should know that adopting the 2015 IECC in its unamended form will lower the cost of home ownership, and provide for healthier, more comfortable, homes and buildings in the Pikes Peak region.
Jim Riggins is a representative for the following non-profit organizations that submitted this opinion column: Green Cities Coalition, Pikes Peak Group of the Sierra Club, 350 Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Permaculture/Transition Town Manitou Springs, Southeastern Colorado Renewable Energy Society (SECRES).