If you follow building energy efficiency code development and implementation at all, then you know that builders in North Carolina oppose efforts to modernize the state’s outdated energy efficiency code. That code is largely unchanged from the 2009 IECC, and the North Carolina Home Builders Association is fighting to keep it that way.
But not every builder supports the status quo. In an interview with WFAE 90.7 in Charlotte, one North Carolina builder Rodney Graham, owner of John Marshall Custom Homes, shared his thoughts on the issue. Graham has spent the past 20 years constructing energy-efficient homes and currently builds to EPA’s ENERGY STAR for homes specifications. He also has had homes HERS-rated and LEED certified, and although his homes typically cost $1M or more, he says energy efficiency is the right approach at any price point.
Cost Versus Benefits for North Carolina Homebuyers
The North Carolina Home Builders Association argues that stricter requirements for insulation, windows and doors, and heating and cooling systems will add costs at a time when most view the dream of home ownership as both unattainable and unaffordable. The association conducted an informal survey of its members that estimates the proposed energy code changes in the state would add an average of $20,400 to the cost of a single-family home. Its findings have drawn criticism, particularly since the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) estimates that it would add significantly less – between $4,763 and $6,057 to the price.
Graham estimates that improved efficiency would add just three to four percent to the cost of a new home. At the same time, more efficiency would save homeowners about 16 percent in energy costs compared to the current state code, or roughly $335 annually, according to the PNNL. “But the savings in durability and energy bills greatly offset that. There’s no question in my mind about that,” Graham says. He says energy efficiency isn’t a bad word, but a selling point.
PNNL’s analysis shows that the proposed code changes would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 130,700 metric tons in the first year, taking the equivalent of 29,000 cars off the road.
The Benefits Outweigh the Costs
Efficiency advocates in North Carolina, including Matt Abele of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association, say the North Carolina Home Builder lobby’s efforts to stop code updates have been obstructing the North Carolina Building Code Council’s work for the past two years.
Builder opposition to the code changes led to North Carolina House Bill 488, which prohibits the North Carolina Building Code Council from adopting rules to amend the Residential Code, or any part of the code that applies to budlings, dwellings, and structures until 2031. HB 488 would also create a new Residential Code Council with half its members selected by the Republican-controlled legislature, which would likely stack the council with anti-efficiency minded people. “It would keep North Carolina on energy codes that are in line with 2009 levels, which would keep homes fairly inefficient and more costly for new homebuyers,” he said.
Graham says despite the added expense, the benefits outweigh the costs.
“I think it’s just like about anything you do: you get what you pay for. You’re going to save money on your utility bills. Your houses are going to last longer. They’re going to be worth more when you sell it, too.”
Political Fight Rages On
Even as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) administration is advocating for higher energy efficiency standards to reduce consumer costs and cut carbon emissions, the battle between efficiency advocates and opposing home builders rages on.
Forest Bradley-Wright, energy efficiency director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, notes, “the most affordable and cleanest energy is the energy that we don’t need to use.” He says stricter standards would be good for homeowners and the planet.
“Energy Waste itself is expensive. And of course, it leads to more pollution, So by addressing energy waste before it occurs, you’re reducing the cost of your energy bill, and you’re lowering pollution from fossil fuel,” Bradley-Wright said.
Increased utility bills, higher emissions, and lower resilience work against all homeowners and against the state legislature’s efforts to promote clean energy. Also, if the state doesn’t modernize its energy code, it won’t qualify for millions of dollars in federal aid now available for resilience and climate-friendly projects.
What Happens Next
The Building Code Council is expected to meet June 12-13 to discuss proposed code changes. The House bill to block action (488) has passed the House and is now in the Senate, where hearings have not yet been scheduled.
Leaders at the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association have called on the state’s energy efficiency proponents to reach out to their Senator to vote “no” on this bill, which would hold the homebuilding industry back and potentially cause it to lose out on federal funding.
We’ll be following this action and will provide an update as warranted.