CA Builders to Reduce Juice Use

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In California, a deadline for builders looms. On June 1, the nation’s most stringent energy standards will take effect, requiring an average cut of 14 percent in energy use for all new homes built.

April 01, 2001

In California, a deadline for builders looms. On June 1, the nation’s most stringent energy standards will take effect, requiring an average cut of 14 percent in energy use for all new homes built.

Under a mandate issued in January by the California Energy Commission and enacted by the state legislature, new homes will need a combination of specific devices and systems to achieve the goal. The list includes spectrally enhanced windows, tighter HVAC ducts, radiant-barrier roof insulation, and special thermostatic expansion valves (TXVs) for heating and cooling units. New homes may receive energy credits for being certified to meet the new standards by third party inspectors.

Estimates of the additional construction cost vary between $1000 and $2000 per home, says Eric Eilar, estimating manager for Centex Homes’ LA and Ventura County division. Eilar studied the cost issue and reported his findings to the energy commission prior to enactment of the new regulations. The bottom line, he says, “It will add about 50 cents per square foot to the cost of a new home.”

There is, however, some breathing room. The June deadline applies only to homes built by single-permit application in new neighborhoods. Homes in approved master-planned communities are exempted until January 1, 2002—the ultimate deadline for compliance.

Working on behalf of the state HBA in negotiations with the energy commission last fall, consultant Mike Hodgson of Stockton-based ConSol says it could have been much tougher on builders.

“The original proposal was to be effective February 4, 2001 and employ numerous energy saving systems and devices. Everything was on the table,” explains Hodgson. The result could have required a 50 percent reduction in energy use with little warning to builders.

“In the end we got it down to 14 percent,” says Hodgson, whose focus in the negotiations was also on ease of implementation for builders. “We not only wanted to make it cost-effective, but we wanted the rules to be simple and enforceable.”

Centex’s Eilar reasons that the new regulations will effect all builders equally. Instead, he worries that about tight markets for the needed glazing, TXVs and other materials once all builders begin using them. Shortages could result in higher prices for materials and indirectly increase the cost of the new regulations.

Another concern for builders, says Eilar, relates to home design. The commission’s formula, he says, understates the windows-to-square-footage ratio. The commission assumed window use equivalent to 20 percent of floor space. “Our homes and the homes of many other builders use more windows than that,” says Eilar. Those energy losses, he says, will have to be made up with more insulation.

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