This Week's Codes And Standards, December 11

A new report looks into continuing costs for green infrastructure, tax overhaul implications on affordable housing, and Seattle's new energy code highlights

By Peter Fabris, Contributing Editor | December 13, 2017
Light bulbs
Photo: Pixabay

Total Cost of Structural Fires in U.S. Reached $328.5 Billion in 2014


The total cost of structural fires in the United States in 2014 was $328.5 billion, according to a new report written by University at Buffalo engineers and issued by the National Fire Protection Association.
Of that total, $273.1 billion, or 83%, of the cost was attributed to outfitting new buildings with fire prevention systems, operating fire departments, fire insurance, and other expenditures. The cost associated with losses—such as deaths, injuries, and destruction of property—was $55.4 billion.
The report examined only structural fires involving residential, commercial and industrial buildings. It did not factor in wildfires, vehicle fires, and other outdoor fires.
Other findings include:

  • The total cost of structural fires in the U.S. has increased by 50% from 1980 to 2014, from $218.5 billion to $328.5 billion (both in 2014 dollars).
  • The total cost of structural fire in the U.S. as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product has dropped from 7.6% in 1980 to 1.9% in 2014, a 75% decrease.


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New Report Examines Ongoing Costs of Green Infrastructure Options


A new publication released by the American Society of Civil Engineers investigates the cost of various green infrastructure options to reduce the release of stormwater.
Cost of Maintaining Green Infrastructure quantifies expenses associated with operating and maintaining sustainable stormwater-management technologies. The authors compiled data to provide whole-life cost estimates for a suite of small-scale, distributed green infrastructure technologies.
The document emphasizes ongoing maintenance costs. Thirty state and local agencies participated in this survey. They provided information on individual program structure, types and frequency of maintenance activities, maintenance program costs, data tracking approach, and budgeting. 
The report also includes resources available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, information on available cost-estimating tools, and recommendations to standardize green infrastructure cost reporting.

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Tax Overhaul Could Stymie Construction of Affordable Housing


Municipal government officials are concerned that the GOP tax overhaul could dampen construction of new affordable housing. U.S. News reported that officials with the housing authority in Portland, Ore., said the nation could lose nearly 1 million units of affordable housing over 10 years if the final bill eliminates the tax-exempt status for a type of bond used to finance affordable housing projects.
Both House and Senate versions of the tax bill retain low-income housing tax credits, but the House version would remove the tax-exempt status of the private activity bonds, making them unattractive to developers. Uncertainty over the bonds has already raised upfront costs for some projects across the country.

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More Stringent Seattle Energy Code Will Force Use of LED Lights, and Either Triple Pane Windows or Heat Pumps


Beginning Jan. 1, 2018 a tougher Seattle energy code will go into effect, effectively forcing some design changes in homes. The tougher code has three compliance paths and will likely alter some basic features.
For example, the maximum allowable lighting power densities (installed lighting watts per square foot) will decrease 10 percent below the previous code. This will likely force projects to use LED lighting. Builders would also likely have to choose either triple-pane glass (two to three times more expensive than double-pane glass) or electric heat pumps (three to four times more expensive than natural gas boilers or other heating systems). There may be other ways for builders to meet the new code, but those methods may be more difficult and cost more.

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Delivering High-Efficiency Homes Requires Close Coordination with Contractors


The key to delivering high-performance homes in a cold climate is close coordination with contractors, according to a builder who won a 2017 U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Housing Innovation Award. Charles Thomas Homes, based in Nebraska, builds high energy-efficient homes that typically command a price premium.
The homes are tightly sealed, but the use of economical blown fiberglass insulation in the attic and walls does help to keep costs in check. The company uses in depth, written specifications to help keep subcontractors informed. An online system allows contractors to log in and obtain documents. The key is to coordinate closely and often with contractors so that construction details are clearly communicated and expectations of workmanship are clear and are met.

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