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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Guest blog: Santa Fe County Commissioner; Kathy Holian Supports Local Green Building Code

Kathy_SF CountyIn 2011, the State of New Mexico and the City of Albuquerque rolled back their energy efficiency codes over strenuous objections from clean energy advocates, green builders, neighborhood associations and others.  Santa Fe County wants to follow a different path.  This week, County Commissioner Kathy Holian sent a letter to Santa Fe County residents explaining her reasons for supporting a strong Green Building Code – portions of which are excerpted below.

I want to share with you my views on a vital part of our new Sustainable Land Development Code, which is the result of over two years of work and community input on The Plan, upon which The Code must be based. The Green Building Code is essential to our planning for a sustainable future for the next several decades in Santa Fe County.

Let's start with a reality check: The cost of energy for heating and cooling homes, as well as for keeping on the lights, has been increasing inexorably over the past decade. Utility bills are getting to be a larger and larger fraction of the cost of living in a home. I don't see this trend turning around anytime soon.

Making sure that new homes are energy efficient will pay off greatly in the future. However, a builder may not always be motivated to make a home secure and efficient; after all, the builder and his or her family aren't necessarily going to be living in the home. It is also important to note that many different families live in a residence over its lifetime, so most occupiers have no say in how it is built. And if they buy a home that requires major retrofitting, it will give them pause before they tackle an onerous "This Old House."

The cost of features added to a home when it is built, like extra insulation and double-pane windows, can be amortized over 30 years in the mortgage payment. Studies have shown that the amount saved in utility bills can often be significantly more than the added amount in the mortgage payment.

Erik Aaboe, Santa Fe County Energy Specialist, did an analysis on the extra cost of a home that included energy efficiency measures to reach a HERS (Home Energy Rating Scale) rating of 70. To explain, an average home built with standard methods today is considered HERS 100. As the energy efficiency of a home increases, the HERS rating decreases; thus, a HERS 70 home is 30% more energy efficient than a HERS 100 home. (The state of New Mexico already requires that new home construction be HERS 89.)

Erik calculated that adding the following energy efficiency measures up front -- when the home is being built -- would cost $3870 for a home that uses natural gas ($4370 for propane):

- energy-efficient double-pane windows
- compact fluorescent lighting
- efficient water heater tank
- efficient furnace

The reason for the difference in upfront cost is that the (natural) gas company gives rebates -- unavailable to propane customers -- for installing efficient appliances, such as water heaters and furnaces.

The added cost to the mortgage for the natural gas home is $20.75 per month ($23.50 for the propane home). But here, at last, is where the good news comes in: The homeowner using natural gas saves $26.50 per month, and the homeowner using propane saves $129 per month. (For now, and likely for some time, propane is much more costly than natural gas, which isn't available everywhere in the County.) So the two homeowners are ahead by $5.75 and $106, respectively, per month. I will also note that a builder can improve the HERS rating of a home by merely siting it intelligently with respect to the sun, in order to take advantage of passive solar gain in winter. This usually costs nothing extra, although the topography of some lots may make that option less feasible.

The important point is that reaching a HERS 70 for a new home is not difficult, and it pays off immediately! However, there are builders who do not want to be held to this higher standard. These are the ones who are using the excuse that it will hurt people who are just trying to scrape together the money to buy their first home. But these are precisely the people who need to think of all the costs of living in a home -- not just the cost of the mortgage.

Now, in the age of dwindling energy resources -- and therefore, increasing costs -- what about the new homeowner who can just barely afford the already-built home that they have bought? How are they going to come up with thousands of dollars to heat and cool their homes over the next several years? (Not to mention the even greater, and increasing costs of retrofitting energy efficiencies.)

I believe that, bit by bit, more energy-efficient homes will be required across the country. This will be equivalent to the spread of safety regulations for home building that took hold in the last century, when, for example, people decided that it wasn't a good idea for homes to burn down due to faulty electric wiring. So, the question is: Does Santa Fe County want to be a leader in this area? Or are we going to be a follower in the national trend?

I hope you will agree that we need to be thinking ahead and not living in denial. A forward-thinking Green Building Code is really just good, old-fashioned common sense.

January 4, 2012 at 02:46 PM in Building Code Energy Efficiency, Energy, Environment, Guest Blogger, Santa Fe County Commissioner | Permalink


Commissioner Holian is right on! Building codes save energy and save money.

Last week, the PRC authorized PNM to spend an additional $450,000 of ratepayer money on rebates for Energy Star Homes. PNM had planned to cancel the program, since the now-repealed state energy efficient building codes would have produced results roughly equivalent to the rebate program - at no cost to PNM or ratepayers. With the codes rolled-back, it is now necessary to use rebates to achieve the same level of energy savings in new construction. So, it is accurate to say that repeal of the state building codes is going to cost PNM customers $450,000 a year in real, cash dollars.

Posted by: Jason Marks | Jan 4, 2012 7:02:26 PM

Where can we find more elected officials like Commissioner Holian? We need to clone her many times over.

Posted by: Lora Lucero | Jan 5, 2012 12:50:34 AM

"With the codes rolled-back, it is now necessary to use rebates to achieve the same level of energy savings in new construction. So, it is accurate to say that repeal of the state building codes is going to cost PNM customers $450,000 a year in real, cash dollars."
With the codes rolled back, how do rebates achieve the energy savings. I don't understand. Please clarify?

Headline at HuffPo:

LIHEAP: Congress, White House Cut Heating Assistance Just In Time For Winter


" Just in time for the start of winter, Congress and the White House reduced LIHEAP funding by 25 percent."
"The average benefit was $417 per year. Ninety percent of households that received assistance last year had at least one "vulnerable" member, which NEADA describes as a person who is older than 60, younger than 18 or disabled. Households are eligible for the program if their income is at or below 150 percent of the poverty level or 60 percent of their state's median income."

417 dollars represents half of my heating bills for the winter. how about you? I an likely to be needing that assistance next year. I live in a 200 year old partially restored adobe. I have closed off the south side of the building and 2/3 of the north side to reduce our living space to the equivalent of a one bedroom apartment. We lose most of our heat through the floors.

"Even though the number of households eligible for the program continues to exceed those receiving assistance, this funding has been a lifeline during the economic downturn and rising energy costs, helping to ensure that people do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for food or medicine,"
"The wealthy can handle it. We haven't got any money. I go to the food bank. All I get is outdated cans and a lot of spaghetti. There's a rich versus poor situation in this country. It's bad."
Now, I know that this DFNM article is about building codes for NEW housing but, consider this. Most of New Mexico's solution for low income housing has been old trailers...not run down adobe.
What is going to happen in the long run when those "new" houses age and don't hold up like the old adobe?
Where are people going to live?

Posted by: qofdisks | Jan 6, 2012 3:53:46 AM

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