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Op-Ed: Support New Energy Efficient Building Codes in Virginia

Lopez: Building energy-efficient homes can save homeowners thousands of dollars over time.

Virginia state Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington | Patch file photo by Jason Spencer
Virginia state Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington | Patch file photo by Jason Spencer

By Alfonso Lopez / Submitted to Patch

A small improvement in energy efficiency can have a major impact on our daily lives. The benefits of energy efficiency are sometimes hard to see, but they are easy to measure. Homes that are not energy efficient impact health — resulting in increased risk for damp, moldy conditions, and cold temperatures, all of which can increase the risk for respiratory illnesses and asthma, especially among children.

They also impact property value — energy efficient homes have been shown to reduce the likelihood of foreclosure by 32 percent. And energy efficient homes reduce net costs to homeowners, who will otherwise pay more in monthly utility bills, and for the costs of repairs if inefficient building standards lead to further structural problems over time.

Using energy efficient building practices at the time of construction is far easier and less expensive than retrofitting the technologies later. This approach is especially important for first-time and lower-income home owners, who may not have as much financial flexibility to spend on upgrades, especially after financing the home itself.

The good news is that the Washington Metropolitan region has made some important strides in residential energy efficiency. The District of Columbia anticipates adoption of modernized building codes, and Maryland recently approved the same measures. Unfortunately, Virginia is at risk of missing out on a similar opportunity.

The District and Maryland are incorporating the 2012 industry standards developed by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). In writing these standards, the IECC gained input from experts in energy efficiency, building design, and product performance, as well as state and local government officials, manufacturers, architects, and builders.

The Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development is currently deliberating on changes to the Commonwealth’s building code. Many significant proposed IECC improvements for residential homes have been stripped from this year’s proposal.

The new building codes would increase insulation requirements and require objective testing for air leaks in new homes rather than visual inspections. Fully adopting the new building codes would create a 27.4 percent increase in energy efficiency and save on average $388 annually in energy costs to Virginia consumers. This means homeowners would save over $30 per month on their utility bills.

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that adopting the IECC standards would save the average Virginia household $5,836 over 30 years, which more than recovers the estimated $2,000 in upfront construction costs.

By implementing these new building codes, Virginia would also eliminate about 55.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years. This is equivalent to one year of emissions from 11.6 million cars. Updating the building code is a win-win for both Virginia consumers and the environment, but only if we fully implement the 2012 IECC.

The public comment period on this issue will end on Sunday, Sept. 29. The Board of Housing and Community Development is expected to make a final decision for approval of the recommendations before the end of 2013. Comments can be sent to: Stephen W. Calhoun, Regulatory Coordinator, Department of Housing and Community Development, Main Street Centre, 600 East Main Street, Suite 300, Richmond, VA 23219; telephone: 804-371-7000; fax: 804-371-7090; TTY: 804-371-7089; or emailed to steve.calhoun@dhcd.virginia.gov.

I hope you will join me in supporting the 2012 IECC by contacting the Board of Housing and Community Development, and also Governor Bob McDonnell, who appointed 11 of the 14 members on the board. Let’s ensure Virginia does the right thing for consumers, for the environment, and for our children’s future.

Lopez is a Virginia state delegate whose district includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties. His Patch blog can be found here.

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