Coding Energy Efficiency

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In the last few years, Texas has adopted statewide building codes that were designed to cut energy consumption of new single-family homes. The state tightened codes for commercial, industrial, and other residential buildings, as well. While energy efficiency is crucial in today’s political climate, it comes with a large price tag.

Big Texas cities tend to jump out ahead of the statewide building codes, which have often lagged nationally. The Houston City Council implemented a measure that requires new homes be about 5 percent more efficient in an effort to cut down on homes energy use and improve Houston’s green credentials. Houston is currently considering even more requirements that could put the city some 15% above the state code in terms of energy savings. Environmentalists welcome the stronger codes, but builders have concerns. Further efficiency increases the need to balance energy savings with economic considerations. Energy-saving requirements can easily add a few thousand dollars to the upfront cost of a new home and that can price people out of the market.

Texas environmental agencies are anxious to improve energy efficiency in new homes and existing homes. But crafting codes is easier than making them effective.  Many local governments will see the mandatory statewide code as an unfunded mandate set by the state.  Enforcement capabilities are often lacking, especially in small jurisdictions.

Even big cities struggle. In Austin, where codes have already gone beyond the upcoming statewide requirements, the number of annual building inspections has experienced a dramatic downward spiral. This has been a casualty of budget tightening.

Under the new 2009 IECC changes, Texas is divided into three separate climate zones to determine the minimum energy efficiency requirements in each region. Some provisions of the code are prescriptive, meaning they are required, but details vary by climate zone. Others are mandatory and do not alter based on location. After construction, the 2009 IECC requires buildings to be tested, either by a whole-house blower door test or an extensive code inspection.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Texas agreed to enforce building code standards equal to or stricter than the 2009 IECC with a 90 percent compliance rate throughout the state by 2017. Adhering to these measures will cut energy use by up to 15 percent in new homes. Environment Texas, a citizen-based environmental organization, conducted a study suggesting that energy savings could be even greater.

The 2009 IRC calls for numerous new changes, including: the installation of fire sprinklers in all townhouses and one- and two-family dwellings; the installation of carbon monoxide alarms outside of all sleeping areas; an increase in the amount of wall bracing to protect against strong winds in three-story homes or homes in high-wind regions; a fire separation distance of three feet between walls; a minimum side clearance between bathtubs of 12 inches; and the addition of fall protection devices in emergency exit windows..

Before these regulations were adopted, four major cities in Texas—Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio—each developed and adhered to their own building codes. The new codes allow for more regularity across the state.

Sources: “Texas Building Energy Performance Standards.” Texas RSS. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.

“ECONOMY.” Building Codes to Tighten Across Texas — Energy. Web. 08 Jan. 2013.


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