Newly proposed energy efficiency codes meet opposition

Saturday, September 4, 2010 | 7:26 p.m. CDT; updated 7:47 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 4, 2010

COLUMBIA — Home builders would be required to have ventilation systems tested in new homes under energy-related changes in the building code going before the Columbia City Council.

The Columbia/Boone County Environment and Energy Commission wants the city to require testing of ductwork used in home heating and air conditioning systems to identify leaks and other problems that affect energy use.

Options considered by the commission

 The Environment and Energy Commission considered these three options as an alternative to the one they recommend to the Columbia City Council:

  1. Adopt Energy Star rating standards.
  2. Adopt Chapter 11 of the International Residential Building Codes with special modifications. The modifications are a compromise the commission is willing to make with the Buildings Codes Commission.
  3. Consider an alternative compliance standard other than Chapter 11 of the International Residential Building Codes.


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In making the recommendation, the commission cited studies from other states that indicated leaking ventilation ducts are a major cause of excessive energy use in new homes.

The commission reviewed studies of home energy audits in Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington that found new ventilation systems wasted up to three-fourths of heated and cooled airflow passing through duct work.

"We have assessed many homes with significant duct leakage,” said Chris Ihler of Energy Link, a business in Columbia that performs home energy assessments. “If this (recommendation) does pass, it will weed out contractors with poor practices."

The commission wants the city to adopt an energy code that's contained in the International Residential Building Codes, which includes the testing of ventilation ducts for leakage.

Other parts of the code address:

  • Climate zone specific insulation and an air-tight structure requirement.
  • Proper insulation for water piping and ductwork.
  • Properly sized heating and cooling equipment.
  • 50 percent of permanently installed lighting fixtures being high-efficiency lamps.

Commission chairman Dan Goldstein, in a report to the City Council up for review on Tuesday night, recommended the city adopt the energy code as "the optimum balance between savings and expense for the city and the consumer, and because it is in the best interest of the citizens of Columbia."

Goldstein's report notes the standards have been adopted by "many cities across the country" and yield an 11.6 percent savings in energy costs over the 2006 energy code.

In his report, Goldstein noted the Building Codes Commission was opposed to requiring tests of heating and air conditioning ductwork for leaks due to increased costs to builders that would be passed to home buyers.

The Environment and Energy Commission, however, "believes these costs would be paid back in energy savings to the consumer and would be a good investment for the buyer of the house as well as for the community," Goldstein wrote.

"Everything costs money, but there could be a large payback," he said.

Terry Freeman of the city Water and Light Department said conserving electricity helps lower overall demand and could reduce the need for additional power plants, which would otherwise increase electrical rates for everyone.

"It's cheaper to buy efficiency from consumers instead of paying to generate electricity," he said.

The commission also included energy-related changes it would be willing to compromise in order to keep the duct testing intact. These items have minimal effects on the overall code.

They include:

  • Proper insulation in basements with heat and air conditioning.
  • Using a lighting fixture that can safely come in contact with insulation instead of sealed fixtures.
  • Lifting the requirement for builders to pre-set programmable thermostats in new homes, which would maintain reasonable temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees.
  •  A recommendation, rather than requirement, that 50 percent of permanently installed lighting fixtures are high-efficiency lamps

The Burns and McDonnell consulting firm in 2008 listed improved building code standards as the second highest priority for the city to help reduce the demand for electricity.

The City Council will consider the report at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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Carlos Sanchez September 5, 2010 | 6:21 a.m.

We need stricter building codes in these days of energy conservation and getting the best value for your dollar. Lots of times not enough insulation is put into walls,floors and ceilings and as stated above the wrong kinds. I hope City Council passes this.

(Report Comment)
Chris Hill September 5, 2010 | 11:28 a.m.

If the ductwork is in an attic or basement used for storage only, these regulations make sense. Otherwise it is yet another waste of money and resources, the leaks are just going to heat and cool areas that will be heated and cooled anyway. Yet another case of questionable medaling.

(Report Comment)

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