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Columbia construction companies rush for permits to avoid new energy requirements

Friday, September 27, 2013 | 6:31 p.m. CDT
In order to bring higher energy-efficiency standards to Columbia housing, the City Council approved an update to building codes. The Environment and Energy Commission deemed an increase in the amount of attic, wall and perimeter foundation insulation as the most important and cost-effective energy changes from the previous code. The code calls for insulation with a higher R-value, which is a measure of thermal resistance. According to the commission, the new insulation will cause an increase in energy bill savings for home owners of about 3.3 percent more than the previous code.

COLUMBIA — Construction companies are rushing to get building permits for single-family homes ahead of new energy-conservation requirements that take effect on Tuesday.

About 150 permit requests have been submitted since the Columbia City Council voted 5-to-2 on Sept. 16 to update building codes to the most recent version recommended by the International Code Council, an association that drafts building standards used by city governments throughout the U.S.

The update requires certain building features for energy efficiency, which proponents say will generate long-term savings in energy bills for home buyers. Opponents say the new standards will pass on higher construction costs to home buyers up-front.

Contractors are submitting requests before the requirements take effect Tuesday, when they’ll have to increase insulation in walls, attics and ceilings, test for leaky air ducts, insulate slab-on-grade foundations and use high-efficiency lamps. Any additions, alterations, renovations or repairs done after Oct. 1 will also have to comply with the requirements. Once a permit is paid for and picked up, contractors have 180 days to begin work. 

Any permit submitted by 5 p.m. Monday will fall under the city’s 2009 codes, but buyers looking at custom-built homes using those permits can still choose to adopt the new energy requirements.

Senior Building Inspector Doug Kenney, who handles construction permit requests, said he's received 20 to 30 requests a week since the City Council’s vote – an increase from the usual five to 10 a week. About 40 requests were submitted Thursday alone, and the increase has stretched the time it takes to process requests from 24 hours to a day and a half.

“The requests are coming from contractors all over the place,” Kenney said. “We try to have permits for new homes available for pick up within 24 hours of submission. If you drop it off at noon, we try to have it ready to go at noon the next day.”

Most permits are for construction that would fill in remaining empty lots in neighborhood subdivisions in the southern and eastern portions of Columbia, Kenney said.

In a proposal submitted to the City Council before its vote on Sept. 16, the city’s Building Construction Codes Commission disagreed with the requirements, recommending the council adopt its proposal for minimal requirement changes. The Environment and Energy Commission recommended adopting the International Code Council's recommendations in full.

The Construction Codes Commission deliberated about the energy code for more than seven weeks before deciding the costs to meet the code's requirements outweighed potential energy savings. Citing a study by Texas A&M University, the Construction Codes Commission said the amount of wall insulation required by the code council's 2012 standards would save only 3 percent of a home's energy bill but would cost $1,500 to $1,600.

The energy commission's proposal cited a study conducted by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, which found that a 2,000-square-foot home with a basement would save $230 in energy bills each year if constructed to meet the Code Council's requirements in full. The alliance estimates this would mean citywide savings of $233,000 per year for Columbia.

When the Building and Site Development Department met with contractors Sept. 17, the day after the council’s vote, to discuss the changes in the building codes, Kenney said, they were unprepared to have to explain the new energy requirements.

The department had expected the City Council would adopt the Building Construction Code Commission's recommended updates – which would not have adopted the energy efficiency requirements in full.

“We thought they’d pass a different version of the codes,” Kenney said.

Building Regulations Supervisor Phil Teeple said the new energy requirements will increase the cost of building homes.

“Just insulating hot-water lines could easily cost up to $300,” Teeple said. 

Teeple said the Building and Site Development Department is looking at how to make the change work administratively.

“You can’t expect the industry to change in just two weeks,” he said. 

Scott Linnemeyer, co-founder of Beacon Street Properties, said Wednesday that the company anticipated submitting about 45 requests by Monday for single family homes in Oak Park, Magnolia Falls and Steeplechase Estates – about half of what Beacon had planned to build in the next 12 months. Linnemeyer said the increase in cost of construction because of the energy requirements will be passed on to buyers.

"That’s the way it's going to work," he said. "We're going to be put in a position where we’re going to have to raise the cost. So everyone is trying to get permits, so it doesn’t end up being more expensive for people buying new homes."

Supervising editor is JohnSchneller.


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