Slacking Off? St. Louis Considers Easing Up on Energy Efficiency Construction Codes

by | Feb 14, 2017

On February 8, building industry representatives squabbled with environmental advocates at a meeting of the St. Louis County Building Commission over code changes to the city’s 2015 International Energy Conservation Code that critics claim could weaken energy efficiency and conservation in new construction throughout the region.

However, construction sector supporters say the amendments– which are next set to go before the County Council – are essential to keep new homes affordable, according to a February 12 report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Under discussion at the meeting was a move to repeal and replace Chapter 1115 of the St. Louis County Building Code – which could affect new development throughout the county, except in municipalities that set their own regulations.

The county adopts new building codes about every six years, drawing from International Energy Conservation Code guidelines approved every three years by national building officials and tailored to specific regions.

To date, the local code has been an amended version of the 2009 IECC, and the new ones under consideration are alterations to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code  proposed by the St. Louis County Building Codes Review Committee, or BCRC.

As supporters of the proposed changes pointed out at the February 8 Building Commission hearing, local amendments are made to building codes in places around the country. But opponents say the changes in St. Louis County are extreme, according to the report by the local news outlet.

“We haven’t seen a code this weak anywhere in the Midwest,” Ian Blanding of the Chicago-based Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance said at the meeting, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“We hope when we hear, ‘This building is up to code,’ that it means something,” said Caroline Pufalt of University City, one of a long list of intervenors at the meeting — the majority of whom voiced opposition to the amendments.

But the amendments are supported by a number of homebuilder organizations and individuals in the construction business. At the hearing, multiple proponents said homeowners would still be able to pursue efficiency investments on their own accord, and argued that complying with the codes as written in the 2015 IECC would raise costs of new houses, creating additional barriers to homeownership.

Jim Brennan, president of the Chesterfield building company McKelvey Homes, said it would add $20,000 to $24,000 to home prices “if we fail to adopt all amendments,” the newspaper said.

Critics, though, countered that homebuilder arguments about prohibitive costs were exaggerated and misleading. Citing a report from the National Home Builders Association, for instance, they said construction costs were projected to rise by just $7,091 under similar standards in the 2012 IECC code.

And the efficiency measures at stake would save homeowners money over time — a point that was not acknowledged by those representing builders’ interests, environmental advocates asserted at the meeting, according to the Post-Dispatch coverage.

Indeed, the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club claimed that models estimate that new homes built under the proposed codes would be 6 percent less energy efficient than current ones – costing homeowners $152 per year in additional energy expenses.

“I couldn’t be angrier,” said Kellye Markowski, president of Energy Smart Homes, a company that conducts home energy audits in the area. “They just slapped us in the face without any conversation, any consideration.”

Micki Wochner, the deputy county counselor, said the proposed codes will next go before the County Council, although county officials were unsure when that would be. The council will decide whether to draft legislation based on the recommendations, or refer it to a public improvements committee where details can be reviewed, the local news outlet said.

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