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NC House passes bill to delay energy efficiency rule updates

The House bill would delay updates to the states building code and energy efficiency rules governing things such as roofs, insulation and heating and cooling systems.
David Boraks
The NC House bill would delay updates to the state's building code and energy efficiency rules governing things such as roofs, insulation and heating and cooling systems.

A bill that would block updates to North Carolina's building code and energy efficiency rules passed the state House of Representatives Tuesday, with some changes.

The 90-25 vote came after both the House Finance and Rules committees approved House Bill 488 earlier Tuesday. It now goes to the state Senate.

The bill would reorganize the state's Building Code Council and delay any moves to improve energy efficiency in new homes. The latest version of the bill includes one major revision: It blocks updates only until 2026 instead of 2031.

State building codes require builders to use energy efficiency measures in new construction. The council is supposed to review building codes every six years. The current rules date from 2009 to 2012, though there were minor revisions in recent years.

The state Building Code Council, appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, wants to bring the rules up to 2021 international standards to cut energy costs and reduce climate pollution. That means stricter standards for things like walls, roofs, insulation, windows, and heating and cooling systems. The changes would only affect new buildings and homes.

The bill's Republican sponsors and the N.C. Home Builders Association argue that tightening energy efficiency requirements would make new homes unaffordable. Rep. Mark Brody, the bill's lead sponsor, said it would add $20,000 to $32,000 to the price of a typical 2,400-square-foot home in North Carolina, depending on where the property is located.

"The reason we are prohibiting the current Building Code Council from adopting any new energy codes is because they have publicly declared they want to adopt the new 2021 IECC (International Energy Conservation Code), which will effectively end any 'affordable housing' in the state," Brody said Tuesday.

But supporters of the council's proposed revisions say they would cut homeowners' energy costs and keep North Carolina eligible for federal aid.

"It is possible that we will lose $175 million in federal resilient infrastructure grants if we go down this path," Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat from New Hanover County, said at Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting.

She's talking about grants available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program.

Supporters of the changes dispute the homebuilding industry's claims about costs, saying the rules would add only $4,000 to $5,000 to a home's cost. And homeowners would recover that cost with lower energy bills.

Kim Wooten is a state Building Code Council member who helped draft the proposed update that homebuilders want to block.

"We have heard from the federal government that the BRIC grants do depend on adoption of the 2021 IRC (the IECC International Residential Code) with all of its chapters intact," Wooten said in an interview. "They can't do it piecemeal."

In addition to blocking updates until 2026, the bill also calls for reorganizing the Building Code Council into separate residential and commercial councils, appointed by both the governor and the General Assembly.

Rep. Brody, a builder who represents Union and Anson counties, reported two other revisions in the bill's current version. One would exempt builders from the need to obtain permits for construction and repairs that cost less than $40,000. The current rules require permits for costs over $20,000.

A second update would limit fees that builders pay for local review of erosion and sedimentation control plans.

Besides Brody, the bill's other main sponsors are Republicans Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, Destin Hall of Caldwell and Watauga counties and Dennis Riddell of Alamance County.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.