Opinions Split Over Value of Proposed Stretch Code
By: Brent Runyon
Opinions were polarized last night as green community advocates, builders, architects, and business leaders met to discuss the proposed stretch energy code at the Lawrence School.
The stretch code is designed to decrease energy consumption in homes and businesses by setting higher standards for energy efficiency in construction and could be adopted as the new building code in Falmouth at the Special Town Meeting on April 5. Last night’s event was sponsored by the Falmouth Energy Committee.
Michael Berry, project manager for the Massachusetts Energy Star Home Program, explained that the stretch code applies to all new home construction, renovations, and additions, but only to the area of a home, where construction is taking place.
It also applies to new commercial construction and additions over 5,000 square feet, but not to commercial renovations.
Builders can meet the code by upgrading windows and insulation, sealing air leakage, and installing high-efficiency furnaces, in what is called the “prescriptive approach.”
Alternatively, builders can meet the code by reducing the entire amount of energy used in a home by 30 to 35 percent, depending on the size of the house, called the “performance approach.”
Additions and renovations can use either approach, but new residential construction must meet the “performance approach.” Lowering energy costs saves money for the homeowner in the long run, he said.
“The biggest misconception is that the stretch code is a big, big change,” said Bruce Torrey of Home Energy Raters LLC of Sandwich.
STRETCH: another code for bureacracy?
The current building code in Massachusetts is nearly as exacting as the stretch code. The next building code Massachusetts adopts in 2013 will likely be just as restrictive as the stretch code, he said.
But many in the construction industry said the stretch code is coming at the wrong time.
“It’s a little frustrating that this all comes during one of the worst building climates that we have ever seen,” said Greg Jones, an architect from New Bedford, who does most of his work in Falmouth. “It’s going to be very difficult to swallow all this at once.”
Robert M. McPhee, president of the Cape Cod Home Builders and Remodelers Association, said homeowners can already put as many energy-efficiency measures in their homes as they choose, and that the only benefit to the stretch code is helping the town become available for grants.
“You can do all of these things without being a stretch community,” Mr. McPhee said.
Green Community requirement
The Town of Falmouth must adopt the stretch code to be eligible for a portion of $8.1 million in grants to increase energy efficiency with funding through the state Green Communities Act.
Mashpee is the only town on Cape Cod that has adopted the stretch code and is a green community. There are currently 66 other designated green communities in Massachusetts, eligible for a portion of the grant money.
The stretch code standards are not as extreme as some might think, Mr. Berry said. A home built to the stretch code is only a few thousand dollars more expensive to build, but saves the owner hundreds of dollars a month in energy bills.
Jay Zavala, president of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, said he came to the meeting hoping to be persuaded that the stretch code was the right thing for Falmouth, but he was not persuaded.
“This appears to put Falmouth builders at a competitive disadvantage,” Mr. Zavala said. Adding more regulations creates an unequal playing field for builders in different towns. “This seems to fail on a number of levels,” he said.
But others in the audience said the stretch code could mean more than just saving money on energy bills, it could also serve as a way of grading construction.
Each new home built to the stretch code receives a rating, certifying it is built to the stretch code standard, a process which costs about $900.
“You’re giving yourself a major step forward in quality, and that is worth a heck of a lot more than $900,” said David N. Jewett, of Atamannsit Road, Hatchville.
Smal business impacts
Others were concerned about small businesses. Michael A. Duffany of M. Duffany Builders in Falmouth, said he was sympathetic to the one- and two-man building operations that would be forced to deal with another layer of administrative work, after already being saddled with changes to the building code in 2007 and again in 2010.
“It should be incentive-based, not shoved down our throats,” Mr. Duffany said. “What’s the impact on the little guy?”
Under the stretch code, new residential construction will be required to meet a certain score on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), based on the overall energy consumption of the building, including windows and insulation, but also how much energy light bulbs and appliances use.
- The HERS index scores a building on a scale between zero and 100, zero being the score for a home that uses zero-net energy and 100 the score for a home that meets the energy code adopted in 2006. The lower score reflects a more efficient use of energy.
- Homes smaller than 3,000 square feet must score a 65 or less on the HERS index, meaning the building will use 35 percent less energy than a home built to the 2006 standard.
- Homes larger than 3,000 square feet must score a 70 or less on the HERS index, meaning the building will use 30 percent less energy than a home built to the 2006 standard.
- The HERS score is calculated during the design phase and ultimately determined by using a blower door test to determine the efficiency of the home.
Costs for a typical single-family home are expected to increase by about $3,000, and by 1 to 3 percent for commercial buildings, according to the Massachusetts Board of Building and Regulation Standards, the state organization that sets the building code for the state.
John S. Rodenhizer, of JSR Adaptive Energy Solutions in West Falmouth, said the HERS raters will take care of the paperwork, and the end result will be a better designed, better built house.
Beatrice A. Bunker, an architect at BSS Designs in Falmouth, said the stretch code should apply to only commercial construction and not to residential construction. Many of her clients in Falmouth are building second homes they only intend to occupy in the summer.
“Second homeowners don’t care about heating,” Ms. Bunker said.
With Article 30 on the Special Town Meeting warrant, Town Meeting members will have to decide on April 5 whether or not to adopt the stretch code.
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