by Dylan Voorhees, NRCM Clean Energy Project Director
Senator Rector and Representative Prescott,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today regarding Maine’s Uniform Building & Energy Code. We support the proposed legislation and believe it is the appropriate kind of approach to making adjustments that improve implementation of Maine’s code. Should the committee identify other adjustments to the code law, we believe you should use this legislation as a vehicle to do so.
I have attached several materials to my testimony as part of an attempt to summarize and synthesize some of the issues and evidence regarding building codes. My written testimony is divided into two parts: some key facts that are important to keep in mind, and the key issues for consideration that we think are worth discussion as you work this bill and this issue. Each of the attachments is referenced, in italics, at the relevant point in my written testimony.
In addition to some narrow statutory adjustments that seem reasonable, the most important element of LD 1253 bill is allowing CEOs to serve as Third-Party Inspectors (TPIs) in other towns that do not have a CEO, which will increase the supply of inspectors in the immediate term–this relates to the first key issue discussed below.
Key facts and evidence on building codes
1. A uniform code with effective enforcement is greatly desired by leaders in the building trades. You obviously don’t need to take our word for it—they’ve said it themselves:
a. Letter to Governor/Committee in support of codes, signed by several associations representing over 1500 individual businesses in the building trades.
b. Quotes from testimony delivered to the committee at the LD 43 hearing. (In our analysis of the verbal and written testimony, 61 people/businesses gave testimony in support of the codes, and 13 in favor or repeal.)
2. Maine people strongly favor a building and energy code—across all demographics and across party lines.
a. Critical Insights Poll, March, 2011—showing 80% support for the requirement that new homes include minimum energy efficiency features. 70% or more approval across all demographics, including Republicans. This level of bipartisan public support puts building codes among the top of issues we track, such as support for Land for Maine’s Future and removal of BPA form children’s products.
3. The energy component of the code will save homeowners money from day one, and play a significant role in reducing Maine’s dependence on oil over time.
a. Summary chart from the Incremental Cost Analysis for Maine of the 2009 IECC (Committee members should have the complete 3-page memo already.)
There is detailed, comprehensive data on the baseline new home construction practices in Maine just prior to code adoption (2008). This made it possible to assesses incremental costs and savings of the energy code for new homes, which was carefully analyzed by national experts along with in-state experts, including the Maine Homebuilders (1). Here are the numbers for an average new Maine home:
Increased cost – $2,975
* Increased mortgage cost of $13/month (plus down payment of up to $300-600)
Conservative savings estimate – $360 per year (for heating only)
* Monthly savings of $30/month; net savings of $200/year
When you extrapolate these savings across the state, the net savings in the residential sector will be roughly $750,000 in the first year. The savings build each year, and would total $42 million in net savings over ten years.
4. The building & energy code is the result of very intensive vetting, first through a multi-year national consensus process to establish them, and then a significant amendment and adoption process by Maine’s Code Board. The result is a very good, practical and cost-effective code that is widely across the country and fine-tuned for Maine
a. Map of states with a statewide energy code comparable to Maine’s.
5. Maine has made a commitment to adopting and implementing a modern building & energy code as part of competitive federal grants—nearly $30 million received so far for energy savings programs could be in jeopardy if that commitment is voided. Many millions of possible future grants to help reduce energy costs would likely become unavailable. The federal government seeks to help states that are helping themselves.
a. Memo from Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership
Key issues for consideration
1. Are there enough code inspectors? Is there any impediment to inspections and receiving Certificates of Occupancy?
This is perhaps the most important issue that we have seen raised. It is clear to us and to hundreds of Maine businesses that the code provides very significant benefits for Maine. The original law was carefully crafted to give towns a variety of options for enforcing the codes, and it phased this in between 2010 and 2012. So the question is: are we making sufficient progress in training the inspectors who will make implementation of the code workable?
Attached is a chart which brings together many of the pieces needed to assess this question. We focused on the residential sector, because this is primarily where we have heard this concern expressed. The numbers come from a variety of reliable sources, including the State Planning Office (number of certified CEOs and TPIs), U.S. Census Bureau (building permits), and have been reviewed by some code inspectors. This information suggests that Maine basically has sufficient code inspector capacity to inspect new homes. Furthermore there are a significant additional number of CEOs & TPIs who have been trained and may become certified in the near future or as demand increases. This assessment is conservative because obviously some new homes in these totals will be built outside of towns with 2,000 people, where state law does not require inspections (although they may be advisable or desired by builders or developers). There appear to be few weak spots, including Franklin and Piscataquis counties, however a closer look suggests that there should be more than sufficient inspector capacity in the region of those towns—the analysis is on a county basis, for simplicity, but obviously inspectors will cross borders to nearby towns.
We have solicited some additional information from lenders about their practices in requiring Certificates of Occupancy (COs). Some of Maine’s large lenders have a variety of practices. While we will try to present some additional information in the near future, we have not identified any significant barriers from lenders regarding COs, aside the availability of inspectors. The law is fairly clear (although it could perhaps be clarified slightly) that COs are only required in towns over 2,000 in population, and any requirement of code compliance is attached solely to the CO requirement.
2. Are towns that are currently enforcing the MUBEC (i.e. towns that had some pre-existing codes) able to do so effectively? Will towns that need to begin enforcing in July, 2012 have sufficient time to prepare?
In our survey of CEOs in towns currently enforcing the MUBEC, we found that a strong majority feel prepared to enforce the code. A very small handful of CEOs in those towns (i.e. four or five) felt unprepared as of March. The Maine code officials association is very committed to continuing education (their annual code conference is in a few weeks.) We have not surveyed towns that did not have CEOs and did not have pre-existing codes. These towns have more than a year before they need to choose an enforcement mechanism. As described above, it appears there are already approximately sufficient CEOs & TPIs, with more likely to be certified in the coming months and year. Aside from the hundreds of small towns exempt from enforcing the codes, all towns are either using the code now or have significant additional time to prepare.
3. What can be done to further foster education and training for builders?
Obviously it is important for builders and others in the building trades to become educated and experienced with the codes. This has already begun and will simply take time to occur. Several trade associations have undertaken education activities, including the Lumber Dealers. While the State would be well served by monitoring training and education opportunities, and taking minimal steps to ensure it is available, it will be financially impractical for the State to offer free training for builders. The Community Colleges (notably the Kennebec Valley Community College) are well positioned to offer training in general on building practices at reasonable costs, including doing so in partnership with trade groups. It is not unreasonable to expect building professionals to play the modest cost of acquiring code books (which are like another tool in the toolbox and don’t cost more than a high-quality power tool) or for training. One reason not to delay the code further is that the presence of a active statewide code, with phased-in adoption, is important to spur builders and others to learn about the code. It is not unreasonable to believe that pushing “pause” on the code may well lead to putting off training and education.
4. Does the exemption of manufactured and log homes create an unlevel playing field?
Ideally there is a relatively common standard across these different forms of home building—especially for manufactured housing, which are likely to account for a larger portion of the market than log homes. We understand that there are some state or federal codes that apply to manufactured homes, but they may be older and more lenient. (We know of at least one major log home dealer, Katadin Log Homes in Oakfield, which supports inclusion of log homes in the MUBEC.) Certainly it does not make sense to “dumb down” the state’s new uniform code to match a state or federal code for manufactured homes. We believe state law should be amended to ensure that manufactured homes are subject to an equivalent energy code. It might be advisable to request that the Technical Code Board provide advice on precisely how to achieve this and amend the law in 2012.
5. What technical elements of the code deserve further review by the Technical Code Board?
Several specific technical questions have been raised about aspects of the code, including some on ventilation standards, etc. We encourage the committee to generate a list of questions or concerns that is sent to the Technical Code Board for further review and recommendations. We are not aware of any specific technical concerns about the codes that cannot be addressed by inquiry to the Board and possible statutory adjustments during the 2012 session.
1 We are aware that a group on the midcoast did its own analysis. A peer-review of that analysis by the national group, BCAP, is available if you want it. Although that review concluded that the midcoast estimates of costs were too high, it is worth pointing out that even the midcoast analysis showed a positive cash flow starting with the first mortgage payment.