Controversial changes to the Washington state Energy Code scheduled to take effect July 1 have been postponed until at least October and possibly until next April after a building trade group and others challenged them in court and Gov. Chris Gregoire requested they be delayed.
Last fall, the governor-appointed Building Code Council adopted the changes, which included 90 amendments to the Energy Code intended, collectively, to provide a 30 percent increase in the energy efficiency of new homes.
Tim Nogler, managing director of the council, says the changes involve improved energy efficiency of insulation and windows, a limit to the wattage installed in lighting systems, and improved energy efficiency of mechanical systems used for heating and cooling.
Builders, however, have assailed the changes, saying the required upgrades and energy-efficiency testing would boost the price of new homes at a time when they are struggling to sell what they build.
"I've heard reports that even an entry-level house will increase in price by $5,000 to $10,000 by the time you add up all the testing," says Dave Baker, of Spokane-based Baker Builders.
In May, the Building Industry Association of Washington, along with several individual contractors, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, in Tacoma, that challenged the Energy Code changes, charging that the new code would force builders to install upgraded equipment beyond what federal regulations require.
In 2009, the Legislature rejected a bill mandating similar energy code changes, and instead opted for an incremental approach that would reduce energy usage up to 70 percent by 2031, says Building Industry Association of Washington lawyer Julie Nichols.
The Building Code Council, however, has the authority to set the state building code. It meets every three years to make changes to existing codes.
In addition to more efficient insulation, windows, lighting, and mechanical systems, the proposed code changes would require specific testing to ensure that new homes meet higher energy efficiency standards, says Jim Breidenbach, owner of Craftsmen Construction Inc., of Spokane Valley.
Such tests, Breidenbach says, can cost between $500 and $1,500 per home, and might require verification inspections by city or county building officials.
"The details are still being hammered out on how this will be done in Spokane County," he says.
Not all builders appear opposed to the rule changes.
Dennis Crapo, owner of Diamond Rock Construction, of Spokane Valley, says the good side to the proposed changes is that homes would be more energy efficient, and would cost less to operate.
"It will be easier on the planet and resources. That's not a bad thing, but you pay for what you get," Crapo says.
In a June 8 letter to the Building Code Council requesting a delay of the new energy code effective date, Gregoire wrote, " it is clear that the recovery of the construction industry is central to the recovery of our state's economy. I would clearly prefer to see the new energy code implemented on schedule. However, I believe a temporary delay is necessary to allow the construction industry to stabilize."
In response to the governor's request, thecouncil decided to delay implementation of the code until Oct. 29, and agreed to enter into regular rulemaking to determine whether implementation should be delayed further until April 2011.
Public hearings will be held Sept. 10 and Oct. 15 to take testimony on the final implementation date, the council's Web site says.
Wayne Brokaw, executive director of the Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors, says, "More discussion and dialogue needs to occur to minimize the impact on the industry. AGC is always requesting time at the table to talk about the industry and how to have a program that works for all parties."
Brokaw says the building industry will continue to lobby state government for "responsible regulations, not ones that will cause delays and unnecessary expense to the taxpayer."
BIAW says it will continue its proceedings in federal court, asking the judge to strike down the energy code changes.
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