Published on June 5th, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer6
America Needs a Building Code in the Climate Bill
The House version of the climate bill, Waxman-Markey’s ACES included a national building code (Section 201, page 214) which would have led to a 75% reduction in national energy use from buildings. Yet it is not in the Senate’s climate and clean energy bill, the recently unveiled American Power Act.
Seven states leak greenhouse gases (and the wealth of their residents) simply because they do not have any energy-efficiency building codes. When there are no requirements, builders, who have to compete with other builders locally, have to cut corners too, to be competitive on upfront price. It becomes a race for the bottom.
As a result, in those states with no building codes; the same square feet of house need twice or more the kilowatt-hours of electricity (or btu’s of home-heating fossil fuels) to provide the same level of civilized living inside them as do houses in states with high efficiency requirements, because they are simply throwing energy out the door (and the roof, and the walls and the windows).
And it is not clean energy being tossed out the window, in most of these states. Most of the states that eschew building codes are also the states dependent on the dirtiest energy as well, that are responsible for raising the average US coal use to 45%.
For example, Wyoming is 95% coal powered and the average home uses 1,000 kwh a month of coal powered electricity. 31% of homes are heated with electricity or other heavy emissions fossil fuels and 64% with natural gas.
Coal powers 93% of North Dakota homes, in Missouri it’s 82%, Kansas 73%, Alabama 54%. Oklahoma, which just signed a new Renewable Energy Standard; is at 47%. South Dakota has stepped up hydro power and uses 43% coal.
The only no-code states not throwing mostly the worst greenhouse gases out their uninsulated windows are 36% coal powered Arizona, (1/3 natural gas, which cuts greenhouse gas emissions in half; and 1/3 nuclear powered), and Mississippi which uses just 34% coal, thanks to natural gas and some nuclear.
But even there, the waste energy going out the window is still half as harmful to the climate – or is wasting a finite supply of nuclear power with no storage yet for waste.
Under Waxman-Markey, while differing regional needs were allowed for within the act, states and local governments would be required to adopt the new national codes, or codes that achieve equal or better energy savings. It had teeth. Noncompliance would result in loss of significant funding to the state.
The way improvements in building technology achieve widespread adoption is through building codes. If every has to do it, everyone does it. Never mind that building for efficiency saves more money over time, you can’t see it when you buy or rent it, so there is no premium paid for an efficient house. The money is saved on monthly energy bills later, by the occupant, not by the builder.
The exception is if the energy reduction is achieved with something obvious, like solar panels. A premium -$20,000 for every $1,000 saved – can be charged when there is clear evidence that energy costs will be reduced or eliminated, as there is with a solar roof.
When it comes time to reconcile the Senate and the House versions of the climate and clean energy bill, the Waxman-Markey code section should go back in. There is a good case to be made for keeping produced energy inside houses, which only building codes do, by ensuring that the builder down the street also has to conform to the same rule.
Image: Department of Energy