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North Carolina lawmakers override veto of bill that delays building code 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
Lawmakers overrode the governor's veto of House Bill 488, which delays updates to the state's building code and energy efficiency rules governing things such as roofs, insulation and heating and cooling systems.

This story appeared first in reporter David Boraks' weekly email newsletter. Sign up here to get the latest news straight to your inbox first.

North Carolina won't be revising its outdated energy efficiency rules for new homes anytime soon. On Wednesday, the House and Senate both voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of House Bill 488. The new law blocks the state Building Code Council from updating key sections of the state building code until 2031. Some parts of the current code date from 2009. The law also reorganizes the council and limits the governor's appointment power.

The North Carolina Home Builders Association pushed for the bill after the Building Code Council spent two years considering updates. The homebuilders argued that requiring stricter standards for things like windows, doors, insulation and HVAC systems would make homes unaffordable. They also objected to a proposed requirement for sheathing inspections to ensure that homes could withstand hurricane-force winds.

But a federal energy laboratory analysis found that the homebuilders overestimated the initial costs. And it said homeowners would save money over time through lower energy bills. Supporters also argued that cutting energy use is an important strategy for fighting climate change by reducing North Carolina's reliance on fossil fuels for electricity.

The law also has prompted concerns that failing to update the building codes would make North Carolina communities ineligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. That money is designed to help pay for improvements to reduce the risks of storms, flooding and other climate effects.

Supporters of modernizing the building code criticized Wednesday's votes. Gabe Maser of the International Code Council, which develops building codes used in most US states, said the legislature's politicization of building codes is bad for public safety and hurts homeowners.

"I don't think that North Carolina's residents should be forced to pay new home prices for homes that are constructed to standard a decade or more out of date. It's like asking people to buy a new smartphone powered by Windows 95," Maser said.

Here are comments from some others concerned about the bill:

  • Rob Moore, Natural Resources Defense Council: "State building codes should require builders to use the latest energy efficiency measures and account for flood risk in new construction, but the General Assembly has blocked progress. So North Carolinians who are buying or renting a home built between now and 2031, will pay more for energy, more for water, and more for insurance; and their homes will exacerbate the climate crisis while being vulnerable to flooding and storms."
  • Zach Amittay, Southeast Advocate with E2, a nonpartisan group of business leaders and investors:  "This decision from the General Assembly means eight years of stagnation for North Carolina’s progress toward healthier, more affordable housing. Residents of new builds deserve to reap the benefits of more efficient and resilient homes with better air quality and lower utility bills – but too many of our state legislators have prioritized industry demands over what’s best for their constituents and our state as a whole. With millions in federal funding from the IRA and IIJA effectively forfeited, this bill is outrageously counterproductive for North Carolina’s economy, resilience, and public health.”
  • Dan Crawford, North Carolina League of Conservation Voters: "The climate crisis is becoming ever more prevalent in everyday life, especially for North Carolinian communities. But while our nation is taking major steps towards a clean and sustainable future with the affordable clean energy plan, the NC House and Senate Republicans have set an extremist agenda of rolling back laws; laws originally designed to protect our communities and families." 

The bill's lead sponsor was Mark Brody, a homebuilder and Republican who represents Union County. He said in a statement: "This bill prevents costly changes to the residential building code that will drive up costs and make it more difficult for hardworking people to purchase a new home. I’m pleased that a bipartisan majority in the House voted to override the Governor and block these new excessive mandates on home construction."

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.