Energy Housing Costs

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Columbia- The Columbia City Council voted in September to the International Code Commission's 2012 energy efficiency update. Now, this is causing some problems and concerns among builders and real estate agents.

The new code includes stricter standards of attic and wall insulation and installation of an insulated duct and a blower test to check for leakage throughout the house. These are all done to help the homeowner keep their house as energy efficient as possible. The code will mandate future steps next year.

The council members who voted for this new code said energy efficiency is a big step to improving the environment and helping the home buyer reduce energy costs.

"I supported the ICC's 2012 update - and, specifically, the energy efficiency improvements - because these are extremely modest and reasonable steps that increase the value of homes built, reduce the cost of heating and cooling for the lifetime of these homes, and thereby reduce wasted energy and greenhouse gas emissions," City Counsel Representative Ian Thomas said.

Realtor Becky Sterling disagrees. She estimates this new code will tack on an additional $5,000 to $8,000 to the home, which the home buyer will ultimately have to pay.

"My concern is that we are going to price our self right out," Sterling said. "In new construction, if you're buying your first home, the difference between an additional five to eight thousand is big."

Opponents of the new code are upset because they don't think the council members spent enough time to fully understand the effects of the code.

"It came as a surprise, it came from right field," Don Stamper, Executive Director of the Home Builders Association, said. "It was not previously discussed or debated. We have some questions about their process and procedure, whether it was appropriate to do, what they did. But the bottom line is it became law, so we're scrambling to adapt.

Sterling said a higher price tag on a house would force more home buyers to buy outside the city limits. It will take about 13 years for a payback to come for a 2,000 square foot home, according to a cost comparison from the commission.

"The real question is: energy efficiency based on what return?" Stamper said. "In other words, if you're going to make an additional four thousand dollar investment, how is it going to pay back or is it going to pay back?"

Higher housing cost isn't the only reason people are getting upset. Stamper said the new code could lead to even more problems.

"I think that this is going to cause a lot more cost," Stamper said. "And at what return? We're not exactly sure. I can't say specifically that it's going to cause problems but we're getting these houses awful tight. And what I hear from my members is a tight house is not necessarily the best. A house needs to breath. It needs to have air flowing to and fro. You don't want to waste energy with it, but you also want it to have where it has air moving through it and you don't necessarily have to spend three or four thousand dollars for an air infuser to keep the humidity to a point where you don't get mold."

More additions to this code include insulating hot water piping and installing programming thermostats. That begins next January.

Stamper and Sterling both agree energy efficiency is good and needed in houses. But they wish the council spent more time looking over the code. Stamper said that he would work with the city and other organizations to figure out how to make this new code work for everyone.