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Energy Code

Dear Comfort Advisor,

I read that Montana has updated the residential energy code and that the Montana Building Industry Association was against the changes saying it was too costly. However, I stopped by the Green Booth at the Builders Showcase and learned that energy efficiency is great and affordable, the only way to go. Which is it?

Dear Efficiently Baffled,

I think I read the article you referred to so I can understand your confusion. The new and improved energy efficiency standard is a good idea, especially for a state like ours that gets snow in May. Most of our energy costs are spent on heating, so improving efficiency standards will significantly reduce our fuel consumption. The Building Association is concerned that the cost of implementing these standards will add to the initial cost of the home. However, these improvements will save way more money in energy reductions than they will cost upfront. The monthly cost of homeownership is not just a mortgage. Utilities can contribute a significant amount, especially if the home is inefficient.

There is nothing sexy about insulation, caulk, efficient windows, or mechanical equipment. They are just not going to excite the dopamine receptors in your brain like granite countertops might. To make my case for energy efficiency, I am going to have to appeal to your prefrontal cortex, where rational thought takes place. So if you’re not fully awake yet, get yourself another cup of coffee and we’ll look at the economics of this new standard.

One of changes that the Building Association says will be most costly is the requirement to insulate a basement (this does not mean “finishing” the basement) which many homes don’t have any way. The estimated increase in construction cost to meet the new energy standards is $4,200 with $2,000 of that being the basement insulation (based on a 1,600 square foot test home). That $4,200 investment can save over 20% in energy costs, with a full payback on the investment in 9 years as well as a 20 year energy savings of over $11,000. This is without taking into account the energy tax credits and rebates that lower the initial investment as well. I have been performing heat load calculations on buildings for over 30 years and the numbers are pretty cut and dry. A basement that is not insulated can easily account for 1/3 of the total heat loss in a home. So in my expert option, this is a reasonable standard.

There are other significant changes with the new code, so if you are building a new home make sure your architect and contractor are familiar with the details. The local building officials are a good resource, as is the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Details on the code can be found at www.deq.mt.gov/Energy/conservation/homes/NewHomes/BuildingCodes.mcpx.

If you are in an existing home, you do not have to feel left out on the energy savings. As a BPA Certified Building Analyst Professional, I can evaluate where your home can be improved to lower your heating bills, improve indoor air quality, and take advantage of all the tax credits and utility or manufacturer rebates.

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