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National energy conference in Salt Lake brings attention to Utah's outdated home codes

Published: Monday, July 25 2011 5:09 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — As hundreds of federal energy regulators, building-code industry experts and energy-efficiency company representatives kick off the National Conference on Energy Codes, local energy-efficiency advocates are spotlighting Utah's own outdated building codes.

"There's definitely an irony there that Salt Lake City was chosen to be the location and here we are debating whether or not to adopt energy codes that are two years old," Kevin Emerson, a policy analyst for Utah Clean Energy, said while attending the first day of a three-day conference at the Marriott City Center hotel. Emerson said many Utah families could benefit from higher homebuilding code standards, which would require Utah homebuilders to use the latest in energy-efficient materials.

The Utah Legislature passed on updating Utah's home-energy codes last session, due in part by concerns from some Utah homebuilders, who said it would add to the cost of new homes. Emerson said Utah's top homebuilding companies build to a standard above the state's current codes, but that only accounts for about 30 percent to 40 percent of homes built in Utah. Smaller home companies are using outdated technologies and materials that could cost some Utah families hundreds of dollars in higher energy bills.

An analysis by the Utah Uniform Building Codes Commission shows that an average Utah home built to the more recent 2009 International Energy Conservation Code standard would save 10 percent to 17 percent on energy bills; or about $175 a year.

Brent Ursenbach, a building-code official and energy-code expert for Salt Lake County, said there needs to be more education for consumers and builders about the benefits of updating energy codes. He said each three-year code update usually leads to a 15 percent increase in utility bill savings.

"People really don't understand why their utility bills are so high. Everybody needs to become a little bit more educated on the value of more energy-efficient building codes," Ursenbach said.

Emerson said applying the updated building standards would cost just under $1,000 to a house's construction price, although Utah homebuilders have told law makers that cost is up around $8,000. Emerson called that estimate overly inflated.

"Especially in a time of increasing utility rates, it's beneficial to give most families access to the latest and greatest technology to lower utility bills," Emerson said. Rocky Mountain Power has requested a rate increase that could cost the average Utah homeowner an extra $8.50 a month. That rate increase, if approved by the state, would take effect next January.

A bill proposing to update Utah's building codes was tabled during the last legislative session for further discussion during the Legislature's interim session. It is expected the bill will be revisited in committee this fall.

Ursenbach said he is scheduled to give a presentation at the convention today about how to educate consumers and builders about energy efficiency.

He added he hopes the Utah Legislature will take a hard look at the proposal to update state codes next fall.

Email: gfattah@desnews.com

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