The Green Inc. blog had a good post today about building codes that require energy efficiency, along with the idea that there should be a national standard. In my former life, I worked in the building trades, has a builder’s license, and know that the idea of being an effective builder is to either a) build pretty close to the code, and no more, or 2) bribe your local inspector as needed. In either case, the building code set a standard, and most of the violations I saw were minimal — building codes work.
Codes were initially established to ensure that buildings were constructed safely. Some measures ensure structural integrity, some mechanical integrity, many ensure fire safety, and some just make sure that at some level, you know what’s behind the finished walls. In the 1970’s, standards for insulation were added, along with other measures to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.
But, as with almost all of the major moves towards energy efficiency that were created in the 1970’s, they either languished or regressed. Until now.
Buildings use a large share of our energy, and, especially with newly constructed ones, efficiency improvements are low-hanging fruit — cheap, effective and durable. What’s interesting to me is that efficiency codes are needed in the first place. A house constructed with energy efficient method and materials can cost nominally more — several thousand dollars, which can pay for itself in just a few years. Or perhaps far more quickly if the price of energy rises.
But builders and people look at the selling price, not the long-term costs — such costs seem abstract, or at least they do until the first heating or cooling bill arrives. The Energy Star label on products projects the annual running cost of appliances — energy inspections should include such labeling so that prospective homeowners can see some of the hidden costs of inefficient housing.