The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 11, 2009

BOS considers “stretch” building code

Eager to give townspeople a chance to weigh in on the state’s suggested “stretch code” to enhance energy savings, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) will hold a public hearing as part of its Tuesday, December 22, meeting to discuss the impact of the stretch code on the town.

The Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards developed the optional building code to improve energy efficiency in the state. It introduces a performance-based code requiring a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index score, to be measured by a third-party and presented to the town’s building inspector. Depending on the feedback received, the Selectmen may vote on adoption of the standards at the same meeting. While only the town of Newton has adopted the code to date, other towns such as Sudbury and Cambridge are holding public hearings as well.

At the Selectmen’s November 24 meeting, Glenn Reed of the Energy Task Force acknowledged that the stretch code will incur additional costs in building a new home. However, he added that there’s a “positive cash flow from day one” which results in a “net decrease for new homeowners.” He believes that the buildings constructed to the stretch code ultimately reduce the cost of ownership.

He noted that information exists for a 2,700 square-foot home but has requested data for a house more typically built in Carlisle these days in the 4,000-5,000 square-foot range. At the September 22 BOS meeting, Building Commissioner John Luther had estimated the stretch code would add between $8,000 to $9,000 to the cost of a 2,700-square-foot house, with expected first-year energy savings of roughly $800 to $900.

The stretch code is not a list of design requirements, but rather energy-efficiency standards based on formulas that govern expected energy outcomes. Lower scores mean better efficiency and the HERS index of 60 (or less) would be applicable to new homes – the home would use 60% as much energy as the same size and type of home built according to 2006 standards and translate to a 40% annual energy savings. The HERS index of about 80 would apply to home renovations or additions. A home built to the state’s 2006 energy code would have a HERS index of 100.

Perhaps boosting the acceptance of the stretch code are government and industry incentives that may accompany energy savings. Banks may offer reduced mortgage rates, according to Reed. He elaborated that over 100 cities and towns have applied for consideration as a “green community” and will have to adopt the stretch code. He listed Lexington, Chelmsford and Tewksbury as examples of local applicants. Municipalities with the green community designation can vie for a portion of up to ten million dollars. At present, however, the funding only covers online technical assistance and free bicycle racks.

Anticipating possible objections

BOS Chairman Tim Hult requested that Luther send a letter inviting all builders that have conducted extensive projects in town to the December meeting, as well as representatives from committees involved with school building and the Benfield development. Selectman Doug Stevenson concurred that town projects should follow any codes adopted, saying, “I’m not at all looking at inflicting a code on others when we are exempt.”

Hult also noted that a lot of renovations occur in town. He wants to ensure that enactment of the code to govern a 600-square-foot renovation would not require bringing the entire 4,000-square-foot home up to stretch-code standards.

Selectman John Williams noted he was interested in hearing what the builders have to say, and said “Who is opposed to this?” Luther responded that those involved with restoration of historical buildings comprise one group. He noted the Massachusetts Home Builders Association also opposes the code because its members must consider the entire state, and they fear that the additional cost in building might price lower-income buyers out of purchasing homes. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito