Building Codes Getting Tougher in Effort to Save Energy

Adding insulation to a home's ceilingIn Ohio, the standard for basement insulation has been raised from R-10 to R-5. Image: Katie & Ian/Flickr

New building codes promise energy savings for home owners, which offset the homes’ often higher price tag. Would you buy a new or existing home?

Several states recently have toughened up residential building codes to make new homes easier — and cheaper — to heat and cool.

In Ohio, a new building code ups the requirement for exterior wall insulation to R-20 from R-13, and raises the standard for basement wall insulation to R-10 from R-5. New homes in Ohio also must meet new air-tightness standards that require a blower test.

Experts say the Ohio rules will add about $1,200 to the cost of a new 1,800-square-foot home, but will provide at least $230 in annual energy savings over the life of the house.

How does Ohio’s code compare with others? Corey Roblee, senior regional manager of the International Code Council, says Maryland, Missouri, and Washington lead the way when it comes to building codes for improved energy efficiency. And Ohio’s moving in the right direction.

Other states following the trend include Texas, where a new residential building code that went into effect in January is estimated to cut the energy consumption of new homes by at least 15%.

Out West, The California Energy Commission recently approved upgraded energy-efficiency standards for windows, insulation, lighting, and air-conditioning systems. The new standards take effect in 2014 and are projected to reduce the state’s energy consumption by 25%.

Although the regulations mean the average cost of a new Golden State house will rise about $11 per month, that same house will see energy savings of about $27 per month, based on a 30-year mortgage.

Regulations that affect the cost of construction are always hot-button issues, but California’s laws passed without too much wrangling. That’s because months of meetings and open-door discussions between home builders, energy experts, environmental groups, and utility companies produced an effective consensus on how to move forward.

Don’t we wish all government worked that way?

Would you buy a new, more-efficient, but possibly more expensive home, over an existing home that needs an energy retrofit?