Monday, June 20, 2011

Somerville to Require Higher Energy Efficiency for New Construction

Last week, Mayor Curtatone signed a change to Somerville’s building code that will require a 20% higher energy efficiency standard for new construction—both residential and commercial. Called a stretch code, the policy is designed to reduce energy and heating costs, saving money for residents in the long run as well as reducing the city’s overall carbon footprint.

Approved unanimously by the Board of Aldermen at its June 9 meeting, the stretch code has been adopted by 85 other municipalities in Massachusetts and is quickly becoming the standard in this region. The code will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

“With all of the new construction we anticipate in Somerville during the next decade as mass transit returns to most of our city, this move toward energy efficiency will have a major impact in terms of reducing energy costs and in environmental protection,” Curtatone said. “It is a sensible and necessary change that reflects the kind of environmental pragmatism we all need to embrace in these times of rapid climate change.”

By adopting the stretch code, Somerville is now able to apply for designation as a Green Community, which brings with it the opportunity to receive state grant funds. Other Green Communities criteria that Somerville has already met include the adoption of a formal fuel-efficient vehicle policy and a commitment to reduce the energy use by City government by 20% during the next five years.

Stretch Code FAQs

How is the stretch code more effective?
The code goes beyond simply requiring the use of energy-efficient appliances or materials. Rather, it requires builders to design new buildings so as to reduce energy use by 20% over current requirements. In addition, real-world testing is carried out to ensure compliance and proper building techniques. Testing is critical. According to the Massachuesetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), “Prescriptive codes don’t guarantee good installation, air and water tightness, or that thermal insulation is effective. [For example,] Small air gaps can reduce insulation Rvalues by 50% or more.

Will the new code raise construction costs?
Higher energy efficiency standards do raise building costs, but they are regained as energy savings. According to the DEP, “Construction costs are estimated to rise approximately $3,000 for a typical single family home, and by 1% to 3% of total costs for commercial buildings. However, after energy cost savings on heating and electricity are included these higher performance standards save money.”

For example, according to the DEP, a three-bedroom, 2,672 square foot home built using the new stretch code standards will save the home owner an estimated $500 per year in energy cost savings. Case studies of commercial buildings and large residential complexes have shown proportionally more in energy cost savings.

“For example, on one mid-sized office building in Leominster, Mass, the additional cost was $101,000, while the annual energy savings were $27,600, for a three year payback. But the utility energy efficiency program provided a rebate of $66,600, reducing the initial cost to $34,000. As a result, the energy savings pay for the extra costs in just over one year,” reports the DEP.

Does the code apply to renovations?
The stretch code does apply to major renovations of residential property (commercial property renovations are excluded). But when renovating, energy-saving requirements are less stringent and may be met by meeting standards for building materials and systems. According to the DEP, “due to the wide variety in types and conditions of commercial buildings, at this time there are no widely accepted standards for renovating such buildings, so only new commercial buildings are covered by the stretch code requirements.” Designated historic homes are exempt.

Does the code apply to minor remodeling?
Yes, but only systems or areas directly affected by the remodel are impacted. According to the code, “If a small renovation involved replacing a couple of windows and opening part of a wall cavity, then those new windows and wall cavity would have to be brought up to the stretch code, just as the plumbing in the kitchen or bathroom being remodeled would have to comply with the plumbing code. However, improving a kitchen or bathroom would not trigger required changes to the rest of the home such as attic insulation or a new heating system. Only the systems being modified have to be brought up to code.”

Where can I read the code?

The full code is here:

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