September 07, 2009
Building Code Improvements Seen as Vital to Climate Change Legislation
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Building Code Improvements Seen as Vital to Climate Change Legislation

By Susan Smith

Ed Mazria, founder of
Architecture 2030, a nonprofit that focuses on global warming technology for the built sector, spoke on the topic, “Building Codes at the Heart of the Climate Bill” at a Climate Change Symposia held in Albuquerque, NM in August. Sponsored by the Sierra Club at the University of New Mexico, the event featured four tracks: The Science of Climate Change; Environmental Justice; Land Use and Transportation; and Green Jobs.

Mazria, who has testified in front of Congress on the topic of building codes, and testified in front of the House on jobs, contends that no provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 would do more to reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions than improving building energy codes.

The climate bill, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts and is supported by the president, passed the House by a slim margin on July 26. This bill would establish a cap and trade system for carbon emissions reductions and renewable energy standards for utilities, plus develop programs for building energy performance labeling and large-scale building retrofits.

Although cap and trade is the most talked about segment of the climate legislation, the code improvements, in Section 201, which comprise 28 pages in the 1400-word document, make the bill worth passing, according to Mazria.

The code upgrades would impact new and renovated buildings on both commercial and residential sides, that would demand a initial 30 percent energy improvement. The code targets would rise to 50 percent in 2014 and 2015 and require incremental reductions of 5 percent until 2029 and 2030.

According to Architecture 2030 research, the code targets would reduce building sector energy consumption to more than 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, a $218 billion savings in annual energy costs. Carbon emissions from buildings would also decline, falling to nearly 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, the group said.

Mazria said the U.S. building sector, comprised of 300 billion square feet, accounts for nearly half of all U.S. energy carbon emissions and ¾ of electricity consumption.

Further, by 2050, 75 percent of the nation’s current built environment will be either new or renovated.

“The targets in Section 201 are set at a reasonable and beneficial pace for change that will achieve the reductions necessary within the timeline called for by the scientific community,” Mazria said.

Mazria made a comparison between implementing Section 201 which would provide 83 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and the implementation of nuclear. “If you implement nuclear you wouldn’t get close to that,” stated Mazria.

One hundred nuclear plants would cost $750 billion to build, “where does that get us in terms of energy?” he asked. “How much energy would be delivered to your house, plus what is wasted in heat, etc.? This is what a group of senators want to substitute for climate change.”

Mazria said that Section 201 will allow the U.S. to use clean fuel. There are three ways to accomplish this:

Design, planning innovation – better simulation tools, Architects with these tools will be able to get down 60-70% clean fuel.

Add technology

Purchase renewable energy – get utilities to send you clean energy

U.S. Unemployment

There are 7 million people currently unemployed in the U.S., with 9.4 percent general unemployment and construction unemployment at 20 percent. The question is, what does this have to do with climate change?

Mazria stated that 7 percent of total building infrastructure is public building sector and 93 percent of the private building sector comprises building square footage. We can divide private into two parts commercial and housing (mostly housing). 60 percent is the housing sector. In 2008, the public building sector was up to 2 percent. “It didn’t tank – they’re still building from bonds passed four or five years ago, and it is actually increasing now. 2009 commercial was down 7 percent but now is starting to tank. The housing sector from March 2008 is down 66 percent. The housing sector is dragging the economy down.”

The public building sector provides the tax base and jobs for public building. A big piece of that comes from private building sector, which is shrinking because of job losses and construction is way down.

With the Stimulus 786 a lot of money went into the public sector for salaries for cities for shovel ready projects. “They allocated another 1.2 trillion to buy up mortgage backed securities to drive interest rates down to 5% roughly – do you see any construction going on?” asked Mazria. “No one wants to renovate. With people losing their jobs, people are holding onto every dollar. Because the building sector is tanking, it dragged the whole economy down with it, everything is tied to building sector.”

If we don’t get a handle on the private building sector and bring that back, we’re into Stimulus 2, said Mazria. This is a 4.5 million jobs plan. “We need 20-year financing for these renovation loans. A 3 percent loan is what you pay over 20 years. That’s why these plans won’t work because you have to pay the money back. No one is going to do this for $10 less on your energy bill.”

Mazria said that Architecture 2030 proposed a 4.5 million jobs plan trying to get the president and Clinton to bring the building sector back a second stimulus is not needed to bring it all back.

What happens when you put federal dollars into public infrastructure projects?

For public infrastructure there is $30 billion. “If you take that into schools and bridges and public buildings, you have substituted the tax base which would have come from taxpayers,” explained Mazria. “You have given states, counties, etc, money to spend, they’re substituting this money for their tax base and getting $30 billion worth of construction. With $30 billion you get about 500,000 jobs.”

What happens when federal government money is put into an investment plan?

“From $30 billion we get $296 billion worth of construction, with that you get 4,500,000 jobs, $20 billion goes to state and local government taxes, so $60 billion goes back to federal government in taxes.”

This last one is a home mortgage rate buy-down which is a home energy reduction target. The bottom line is that homeowners will get a mortgage interest rate reduction: the government will buy your interest down by 1 percent if you bring your energy reduction to HERS 70 (30% below IECC 2006), or a 2.5 percent loan if you bring your building to net zero. (assuming current mortgage rates are at 5%)

According to Mazria, in order to get this you have to spend $40,000 renovating your building:

$240,000 mortgage loan @ 6%

Mortgage balance $210,000

Equity - $30,000

You’re paying $1,439 month, spending $40,000 to renovate your building.

“Would you do this if we give you a 3 percent mortgage and you contract to spend the $40,000 or more – that much has to go for efficiency and you have to meet the HERS rating?” Mazria posed the question.

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