The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 14, 2010

Carlisle adopts stretch building code

To become mandatory next January 1

Article 28 proposing a Stretch Building Code for Carlisle was narrowly adopted after a long discussion ending well after 11 p.m. The stretch code raises the requirements on energy efficiency for new homes, additions and major renovations. The adoption was proposed by the Selectmen’s Energy Task Force, but opposed four to one by the Selectmen themselves. The new regulations will take effect January 1, 2011.

Steve Hinton of the Energy Task Force noted the optional state building standard Appendix 120.AA of the Massachusetts Building Code, also known as the stretch code, provides “a more stringent version of the existing code” that “does not expand the scope, but raises the bar.” Thirty-one towns have already passed the stretch code, including Concord, Acton, Chelmsford, Lincoln, Lexington and Lowell. Twenty-three others are considering the measure at later Town Meetings.

Hinton said the goal is to increase energy performance by 20%. Each new home or qualifying renovation will be tested by certified personnel to derive the Home Energy Rating System (HERS)index, reflecting the level of energy efficiency. Included in the rating is a “blower door” test and examination of duct work, windows and walls. Energy Star homes already require these tests, which have been around for about ten years, said Hinton.

Additional costs for a 4,462 square-foot home are estimated to be $6,476, said Hinton. If financed and compared to a projected $1,455 in annual energy savings, the positive cash flow would be $984, even before utility and government incentives. The new requirements would not apply to existing homes unless there is a major renovation or addition, nor to historical structures. Commercial property under 5,000 square-feet is also exempt. The Carlisle School project would not be subject to the stretch code, but the Benfield housing might be.

James Bohn of Concord Street spoke in opposition, noting that Home Builders of Massachusetts is against the measure. He spoke as an individual, but also serves on the Housing Authority. The stretch code would increase the cost of home ownership, he said, and “be a barrier to families and individuals that want to erect a home in Carlisle.” He suggested, “Let the builder and homeowner decide what meets their needs and their budgets.” Because the code is new, he advised waiting to see what problems arise when other communities implement it.

Majority of Selectmen opposed

Selectman Doug Stevenson also spoke in opposition, pointing to issues of cost, efficacy and code uniformity. He works in construction, and noted that consumers are already demanding energy efficiency; buildings are already tightly regulated; and inspections get more complicated each year. Homeowners should be allowed to decide where their energy dollars should go, and not be forced to spend money on testing, he said. The proposed measures would add complexity, time and expense while savings would be “a blip on the screen of energy costs” because the rules do not apply to the most energy-inefficient buildings, those that are large or old.

In addition, the stretch code departs from the Uniform Building Code and makes it harder for builders working in different towns. Tim Hult, the one supporter on the Board of Selectmen, countered, “It’s time to take concrete steps toward energy conservation.”

Reasons given for and against

Many audience members spoke on both sides of the issue. Helen Young of the Energy Task Force supported the code, and said, “builders learn from performance testing.” In addition, “Many homes are not built by the occupier. They’re built by the builder to sell,” and that builder may not care about long-term energy costs. Another supporter, David Rolley of Hart Farm Road, believed that energy efficient construction has benefits lasting many years and is cheaper than trying to retrofit later.

Cindy Nock of the League of Women Voters pointed to an opportunity to help reduce the need for new power plants in Massachusetts and to “make a statement our community is taking steps to reduce dependence on foreign oil.” Susan Stamps of Carlisle Climate Action asked Town Meeting to “join neighboring towns” and suggested that homebuyers would be attracted, not repelled by the existence of a stretch code. West Street resident Eric Darling noted that housing in Lowell is far more price sensitive, saying, “In the world’s interest, why do less?”

Ralph Anderson of Baldwin Road expressed concern that “low cost housing would suffer” with proportionally higher expenses. Other energy programs such as LEEDS are not cost-effective for small homes, he added. Cross Street resident Bobby Lyman said that homeowners “are intelligent enough to evaluate and make their own decisions” without added regulation. She noted that limiting the size of houses would save a lot more energy, but builders should not be restricted. “Let us make our own decisions.” Gabrielle Dockterman of Russell Street had done her own green renovation and said, “I would not have wanted another level of regulation,” noting she preferred to spend the money on solar panels, not testing.

Steve Davis of Prospect Street believed energy savings will happen voluntarily “without being forced down peoples’ throats.” Another suggested the code is an unfair burden on outsiders and that Carlisle residents supporting the measure should “put their money where their mouth is” and upgrade their inefficient ’70s and ’80s homes. Russell Ruthen of Pine Brook felt the stretch code is too complicated. “Let’s do something simple and right. Let’s not do this,” he said.

Housing Authority Chair Alan Lehotsky was concerned the stretch code would add to costs to the town’s planned Benfield affordable housing. Hinton said that a recent state ruling seemed to put the town’s affordable housing project within the scope of the stretch code, but the $6,500 additional to adhere to the code is a tiny percentage, less than 1/10% of the estimated $7 million cost of Benfield. Selectman John Williams responded that the Benfield developer has already endured a “tortured process,” and this would just be another hurdle; “We need to get on with it.” Josh Kablotsky of Nickles Lane said, “Let’s apply the standard to Benfield (regardless) . . . We can’t hold others to a higher standard than we’re willing to have ourselves.”

Discussion continued, and at 11:20 p.m. the vote was called. Tellers were required to count hands and returned a tally of 79 pro and 68 against. Requiring only a majority, the measure narrowly passed. ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito