ISSUE ALERT: Efforts are Underway to Keep Utah’s Building Energy Codes Out-of-Date

Utah is growing fast. In fact, according to the 2020 Census, Utah is the fastest growing state in the country, creating both a building boom, and affordability crisis. Utahns buying newly built homes are likely to assume that their brand-new home is state-of-the-art, meeting the latest home building standards for safety, efficiency, and affordability. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case today.

Utah’s residential energy code is woefully out of date – by seven years. The good news is that the opportunity to remedy this problem – by adopting the 2021 residential energy code in Utah – is upon us. (Read more about the benefits of the 2021 energy code in this previous blog post.) The bad news is that the the Uniform Building Code Commission (UBCC), the agency that is responsible for reviewing and recommending building and energy code updates, is being pressured by the Utah Homebuilders Association to keep Utah’s residential energy code out-of-date.

Debunking Claims That Updated Energy Codes Are Too Costly for Homebuyers

As with most energy efficiency improvements, there are some associated up-front costs. In this case, the incremental construction cost to build a new home to the 2021 IECC is estimated to be between $2,600 and $4,700. When adding this total to the cost of a new home today, this represents less than one percent of the cost of a new home in Utah today, a miniscule amount.

The financial benefits on the other hand run over the life of the home. Results from an independent analysis shows that the energy efficiency updates in the 2021 energy code are estimated to cut Utah homebuyers’ energy bills by approximately $150 each year, after accounting for an increased down payment and higher monthly mortgage costs. So, the cost of owning and operating a home built to the updated 2021 energy code does not cost more. In fact, it increases home affordability in the long run by reducing monthly energy bills, while also improving comfort and reducing emissions!

Efforts to Keep Utah’s Energy Code Out of Date

The Utah Homebuilders Association (HBA) recently submitted dozens of amendments that would keep Utah’s residential energy code significantly out-of-date. These amendments scale back essential parts of the 2021 energy code and will leave new homebuyers in Utah with homes that needlessly waste energy and increase utility costs.

The HBA justifies these amendments by citing a study published for the National Association of Home Builders by Home Innovation Research Labs (HIRL) that claims updating energy codes costs too much, making homes even more unaffordable. But, the HIRL report has been found to be highly inflated.

A new comparison analysis conducted by ICF International – a 3rd party, independent consulting firm – recently found that the HIRL report includes numerous cost estimates that are too simplistic, inflated, and unreasonably high. According to the report authors “…the value reported to have been used in the HIRL report is the highest profit margin seen since 2006, and the value that was actually used is higher than any reported historical profit margin.” This is just one of several findings that raise concerns about the cost estimates that the Utah Home Builders Association is using to justify keeping Utah’s residential energy out-of-date.

Get Involved!

The UBCC Mechanical Advisory Committee is convening another public meeting on May 24th and the full Commission is slated to vote on recommendations for Utah’s energy code this June. As of now, things are not looking good for improving energy affordability and shrinking the emission footprint of new homes in Utah.

Utah Clean Energy’s team is providing technical support and education as part of the UBCC process to support adoption of the 2021 energy code. If you are interested in this issue and would like to learn more and/or get involved, contact Kevin Emerson at kevin@utahcleanenergy.org.

AUTHOR

kevin emerson

Kevin Emerson, MSc

Director of Building Efficiency and Decarbonization

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