Unfortunately, it’s not — and this is a real opportunity that is in jeopardy of not being pursued.
What’s at issue here is the adoption or rejection of the United States Department of Energy-supported 2012 new home construction energy code update. Gov. Rick Snyder and his director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs have the authority to adopt these cost-saving code improvements, saving hundreds of dollars annually for occupants of newly constructed homes.
Full adoption of the 2012 codes will save money in both the short and long term. Homes built under the new standard will have average energy costs 30.9 percent less than homes built to Michigan’s Uniform Energy Code (2009 standard).
Because most new homes are financed, the DOE finds, “After accounting for up-front costs and additional costs financed in the mortgage, homeowners should see net positive cash flows (i.e., cumulative savings exceeding cumulative cash outlays) in one year for the 2012 IECC.” More simply, less money will be going to pay for your mortgage and energy costs in the first year, and all the energy upgrades will completely pay for themselves in 3.5 years.
Full adoption of the code would encourage energy-efficiency improvements that are longer-lasting and much more effective than changing out light bulbs and low-flow showerheads. The codes would include permanent improvements to a building’s shell, including better windows and stronger insulation. The walls and shell of a home would be made tighter and have less duct and HVAC leakage. Hot water pipes would have to have better insulation to allow hot water distribution to be more efficient. These measures are most cost-effective at initial construction.
Energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest and most quickly deployed source of energy available to Michiganders. Why do I and other environmentalists love energy efficiency so much? Because it allows us to be a direct advocate for the consumer and family budgets now. It’s a direct and local investment in our communities that employs skilled workers locally and keeps pollution out of our air and water.
Unfortunately, the public interest in this case is being seriously challenged by powerful lobbyists and special interest groups working for the perceived short-term benefit of a few. Incredibly, some want go even further than rejecting the 2012 update; they intend to roll back energy-efficiency measures already embedded in Michigan’s code — improvements that are currently saving Michiganders energy and money.
Even if it were a good idea to reject the 2012 code to benefit a narrow range of special interests in the building sector (it is not), those winners would come at the expense of other Michigan business losers.
Our state is home to large and small manufacturers of energy-efficient building products and services. Building energy-efficient homes is good for business and good for the economy, but you don’t need to take an environmental group’s word for it. The world’s largest business organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, advocates the same. The chamber’s national policy platform calls for “legislation to boost private-sector investment in building efficiency upgrades, help manufacturers reduce energy use, update lighting and appliance standards, and strengthen building codes.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports national model building energy codes.
Both single and multifamily homes built to the new 2012 energy code standards will save energy and money — lots of it. If Michigan updates its building codes, the state will save nearly $230 million annually by 2030.
In December 2013, Gov. Snyder laid out his vision for a “no regrets” energy future. Wisely, the governor called for an emphasis on “eliminating energy waste” and has made that goal a foundation of his energy plan. Speaking on energy and the environment, the governor has said, “There are things we can do today that benefit us right now and pay dividends tomorrow, no matter what the future holds.”
Adopting the 2012 energy code is smart policy that moves Michigan toward a “no regrets” energy future. We should not miss this opportunity.
Gov. Snyder and LARA should fend off challenges to current efficiency standards and adopt the full 2012 code this year.
— Becky Brown is the water programs outreach coordinator for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.