Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hailey debates ‘green’ building code

Proposal aims to increase energy efficiency

Express Staff Writer

Hailey may soon have a "green" building code that encourages, or even requires, builders to exceed energy-efficiency standards set by the state of Idaho, but not until the Hailey City Council has a few questions answered.

The council wants to know why cutting a hole in a wall for a window during a remodel would trigger a $400 "energy audit," and exactly how much financial sacrifice a homebuilder would undertake under the proposed changes to build a larger, less energy-efficient home.

The council agreed unanimously Monday that improving energy efficiencies in Hailey homes is a good idea, but was split over whether to make complex changes to the city's building code to bring those efficiencies about.

The proposed changes, outlined in a 30-page document, would implement a points-based system based on criteria such as construction waste management, underground heating for snow melt and the number of bedrooms in a particular home design.

Hailey and the rest of Idaho currently follow 2006 International Energy Conservation Code standards for energy conservation. The state will switch to stricter 2009 standards in January.

Hailey's Sustainable Building Advisory Committee, led by Planner Mariel Platt, recommended Monday enforcing mandatory compliance with ordinance changes that would increase energy-efficiency standards 10 percent higher than the soon-to-come 2009 standards.

Platt said the cost of the new program would increase building costs up to 2 percent, and require a $400 "energy audit" for a remodel and $1,200 in increased costs for a new-home building permit, but that those costs could be recovered in energy costs within two years.

"This is a good idea, but when we add a program, we add a cost," said Councilman Fritz Haemmerle.

Haemmerle, along with the rest of the council, supported a one-year voluntary compliance program for residents and builders to improve energy efficiency and save money on energy costs.

Councilwoman Martha Burke called for mandatory compliance at the end of the first year. Councilman Don Keirn suggested using the year of voluntary compliance to gather more information on the effectiveness of the proposed changes.

The council instructed Platt to find ways to cut costs in the permitting process outlined in the proposed ordinance changes before it makes a final decision. Platt will report back to the council on her findings on Oct. 11.

The ordinance changes proposed Monday would require a 10 percent increase in energy efficiency for new home construction and energy audits for remodels over 500 square feet in size, with several exemptions. The Hailey Building and Planning departments would administer the program with the help of a third-party verification process.

Energy auditors would measure a building's energy conservation according to the Home Energy Rating System index. Auditors use equipment such as blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation, and a duct-blaster test to assess leaks in the heating duct system.

Energy audits cost on average $450 for homes under 3,500 square feet. Local rebates for energy audits from a $38,000 federal grant acquired by the city for that purpose are available through the Planning Department.

Platt said due to the number of exemptions within the proposed ordinance, only 80 percent of permitted remodels in 2009 would have triggered a required energy audit. She said the audits are to be used for information only, rather than as enforcement tools.

"There is no pass or fail with energy audits," Platt said.

Hailey Sustainable Building Advisory Committee Chair Jolyon Sawrey said eight energy auditors were already working in the Wood River Valley. He said their work has led to increased business for insulators, heating contractors and others in the construction business facing hard times during the recession.

"I would estimate that 30 people have been revitalized already by these energy audits. Passing this ordinance change would increase that number," Sawrey said.

But not everyone in the room was in favor of exceeding state standards for energy efficiency by law.

Sawtooth Board of Realtors Government Affairs Officer Bob Crosby said a voluntary compliance program, combined with gradually increasing state standards, would likely fulfill the Planning Department's goals by 2012.

"You'll get what you want," Crosby said.

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