Montgomery County, Maryland, is moving toward a stronger building code, with requirements for new homes to meet the Energy Star home building parameters. This is the type of measure rapidly implementable across the country to help foster the move toward a more sensible building infrastructure such as envisioned by Architecture2030 (which has a plan to a deCarbonized building infrastructure by 2030).

The move to Energy Star construction, as the minimum standard, will mean a reduction of energy consumption by at least 15 percent over existing building code.

But they’re being opposed in their efforts by … [drumroll] … the Bush administration.

This is part of an overall Montgomery County effort to achieve an 80 percent reduction in County carbon emissions by 2050.

“We are attacking literally every source of greenhouse gas that exists and ensuring that our county and our citizens use less energy,” said council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), lead sponsor of the measures and an energy lawyer.

Other measures include property tax credits for residents who pay more for renewable energy and a requirement for disclosing utility costs on a home sale. (NOTE to self: next time buying a home, make sure to have an energy audit!)

This Energy Smart piece of local legislation will help foster a shift from Cost to Buy to a Cost to Own calculation in terms of home construction, even if buyers will not really have a choice. The building code, itself, will favor upfront investments in energy efficiency (and, potentially, renewable energy) that will make home more comfortable, reduce energy use, and reduce pollution loads.

There will be that additional upfront cost.

Depending on the size of the home, analysts and developers estimate that construction costs would increase $2,000 to $20,000. For an $800,000 home — the average price for new residential construction — Berliner said that an additional $10,000 would increase the overall cost by about 1.25 percent.

Pause for a moment: $800,000 as the average price? Slowly exhale breath in contemplating that figure …

At 15 cents per kilowatt hour electricity, how much will a homeowner save each year on utilities? $1,000? $2,000? More? Again, this is an upfront investment that will literally pay for itself for the homeowner while reducing the burden on the rest of the community.

There is a however, however.

Raquel Montenegro, a lobbyist for the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, said her members “are not opposed to better building; we’re opposed to imposing a mandate that the market is unwilling to pay for.”

Sure, we love to build higher quality, but we don’t like to be told to do so.

And, the builder’s association has backing from the Bush administration.

In response to questions from the building industry, EPA’s Energy Star residential branch chief, David Lee, said in a letter that the agency does not advocate putting its standards into law and suggests that local and state governments “consider alternative, more market based solutions to encourage construction of Energy Star qualified homes.”


“Market-based solutions …” ???

Let us think this through.

Why do we have seat-belts in cars? Let’s have a market-based solution.

Food-safety standards? Market-based solution seems to work well here, doesn’t it?

FAA inspections on aircraft? Market-based solution. (Oops, we do seem to have that.)

Fire code for construction? Controls on toxics in paints? Lead in paint? Insulation requirements? Inspection of electrical wiring, plumbing, concrete work, etc? Why would anyone have mandates for any of these things?

Sigh …

In any event, it does look like Montgomery County politicians will be going forward with this tightening of the building codes. Hopefully this will be matched by other jurisdictions around the country.

For example, 25 years ago, my county’s ceiling insulation code was R-13. It is now R-38. Tightening to Energy Star represents simply a next step toward mandating a base level of building energy efficiency. And, in a few years, today’s Energy Star will be passe as we move toward even more efficient code.

Sensible regulation (including building code) is a key element to Energize America toward a Prosperous, Climate-Friendly Society.

PS: Of course, Montgomery County is far from the only local government taking Energy Smart measures. For example, there is nearby Arlington, VA. Nor is all the news from Montgomery County as Energy Smart. See, for example, Bethesda Bagels vs County Executive’s McSUV.