by Jay Field
MPBN radio news story
Maine’s uniform building and energy code has been controversial from the moment it began to take effect back in December. On Thursday, a legislative committee in Augusta will hold a public hearing on a proposal to repeal the law. Supporters say the code streamlines building regulations, and in the process will leave Maine with a more energy efficient housing stock. Critics charge the law is already creating expensive hassels for builders and municipalities.
Ryan Morgan wears two different professional hats. He’s an electrician. He’s also one of five selectmen in the town of Farmington. And Morgan says both his jobs have left him convinced the state’s new building and energy code needs to go.
Suppose, says Morgan, you’re building a house and you need to install a 26-foot truss. The new code requires much more insulation throughout a house, including full coverage of the foundation. “And now, when you add three inches of insulation on either side, it’s going to be a 26-foot, 6-inch truss.”
Right now, Morgan says no company even makes a truss that size. So until they do, he says builders will have to pay lots of extra money to place specialty orders. “The logistics of getting it done quick are going to be much harder to do because the contractor is going to have to go in sections. You’re talking about added costs to people that are struggling.”
And potentially less overall business for electricians like Morgan, who typically come in to do the wiring after the trusses and installation have been installed and now may have to sit on their hands and wait.
“As a private landowner, the idea that the state can tell me how I have to build a greenhouse on my house, how I have to add an addition to my property, is offensive to me,” says Republican Rep. Lance Harvell, who is sponsoring LD 43, a bill that would repeal the new uniform building and energy code.
In addition to the insulation requirements, the code also mandates that contractors hire third parties to sign off on their work, if the local municipality doesn’t have a building inspector.
Harvell wonders whether all the focus on energy efficiency is partly about steering business to the growing numbers companies selling sustainable building materials and insulation. But the head of one of those companies, Ashley Richards, says the poor energy efficiency in Maine’s housing stock is a real and costly problem.
“Over $100 million is spent every year in the state of Maine for low-income heating assistance, low-income weatherization and insurance payments for property damage due to ice dams,” he says. “These statistics don’t even include the property damage and loss of life due to accidental fires.”
Richards, who runs a company called Warm Tech Solutions, says the building and energy code is a common sense law that will cut down on these costs over time and make homes much safer.
Richards says he attended many of Gov. Paul LePage’s red tape meetings this winter and heard people worry they’d need to hire engineers to design their foudnations and architects to design their homes—all for an additonal cost of as much as $20,000.
“But it ain’t so folks,” he says. “For less than eight dollars at Walmart, you can buy pencils, a ruler and a pad of graph paper and design your own home. The average increase in cost for a 960-square foot, three-bedroom ranch starter home in southern Maine is about three percent; and for a 1,500-square foot, three-bedroom cape, is less than five percent.”
The Legislature’s joint Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development will hold a public hearing on the repealing the uniform building and energy code Thursday in Augusta.