State Looks at Stricter Building Energy Codes

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The state is adopting stricter energy efficiency rules for new home construction, hoping to improve energy efficiency by more than 10 percent.

The building industry said the rules go too far and will add several thousand dollars to the cost of building a new home.

The Montana Building Codes Council decided Thursday to update the state standards to meet the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code. The state had last accepted the latest standard in 2003, but had provided some state specific exemptions from it.

New requirements would tell builders to insulate basements in new structures. Montana has been a holdout in recent years in not requiring such insulation.

Other requirements would improve insulation standards and set forth new ways of making sure minimum standards are met.

Proponents say the total package will significantly improve energy efficiency.

“I though they did a good, honest job of considering the input they got on this,” said Bob Decker, with the Montana Policy Institute.

The institute was joined by several conservation groups and energy efficiency advocate seeking adoption of the latest standard. They were mostly rebuffed in an attempt to add some additional requirements — such as one that would make homes more air tight and instead provide for controlled mechanical movement of air.

“It would have been nice to turn it into a top drawer set of energy codes,” Decker said.

The building industry said a few of the proposals went too far, and they sought for the panel to continue the exemption from a requirement of basement insulation.

Dustin Stewart, with the Montana Building Industry Association, said the core standards greatly enhance energy efficiency. But he said finishing off a basement with insulation can cost several thousand dollars for a project many building their own home would like to complete later in order to save on up-front costs.

Stewart said all of the improvements in the code add up to $4,000 to $6,000 for some building a home.

“Montana will probably have the highest standard for energy efficiency, but it was done without much regard for the affordability aspect,” Stewart said.

He said code revisions expected later this summer in other areas, such as electrical, will also add several thousand in extra expenses.

“It’s an awful lot of added expenses overnight,” Stewart said.

The council delayed action on whether or not to continue an exemption for log homes, which have difficulty meeting higher insulation standards.

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