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Bill changes how NC building codes are set

Full interview with Representative Mike Hager

A bill (House Bill 120) expected to be on the North Carolina House floor next week would make changes to the way building codes are adopted in the state.  One major change would be that reviews for the adoption of new home and building standards would be conducted every six years instead of the current rate of every three.  Republican Representative Mike Hager of Burke and Rutherford counties is a primary sponsor.  He says the bill is about making homebuilding more efficient and cost-effective.

Rep. Mike Hager: “Most builders are single entities where the owner is the builder.  So everytime you do a 3 year cycle versus a 6 year cycle, it increases cost for them.  It increases the cost because they have to have the code book, they have to be trained, they have to understand the differences and then it actually increases because you’re almost always adding stuff.”

Recommendations come out every three years at the national level.  Molly Diggins is the State Director of the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club.

Molly Diggins: “These recommendations have to do with things like fire safety, energy efficiency, how resistant your home is to storms.  These are the kinds of things that have to do with just your basic comfort, safety, and even your health in a new home.”

And Diggins worries that changing the rate at which the state adopts those changes puts the state behind the curve when it comes to standards such as energy efficiency.  Representative Hager says that's not the point of the building standards.   

Rep. Hager:  “The building code is a structural safety code.  You know?  It’s not an energy efficiency code.  What we’re doing, if we’re not careful, and again you take the latest energy standards we put in last session… Those drove the cost of the house up from anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 a house, with a return that was in the order of a Happy Meal every month.  So the return time is very long.  So what I’m trying to do is look at the economics of building a house.  How do we get folks into affordable housing?  And to do that you make sure they have a safe home and a structurally sound home.”

But Diggins says that even though the Sierra Club's focus is on energy efficiency, there are other considerations as well, especially for coastal residents.

Diggins:  “If there are minimum building requirements, improvements in technology, that would make homes on the coast safer, more resistant to major storms, that’s gonna affect insurance rates.  Why would people on the coast want to wait, delay for 6 years having those nationally recommended practices incorporated for new home construction.”

The bill does enjoy some bipartisan support.  One of the primary sponsors is a Democrat and Democratic Representative Susi Hamilton of New Hanover County is a sponsor as well.  Asked about the bill's bipartisan support, Diggins said the bill is a response to a national effort by the homebuilders industry to pass legislation in states across the country.

Diggins: “The homebuilders industry is one of the most politically powerful in the country.  I’m not sure that the members really fully understand the implications of the bill, even the sponsors.  And as we’re seeing a lot of this legislative session, it’s being pushed through at breakneck pace.”

The bill could reach the House floor as soon as Monday.  But the bill did get delayed after it was expected on the House floor on Thursday.  Hager says that was to give the minority party and others a chance to look over the bill in detail.  He says critics like the Sierra Club are pushing a narrow agenda.

Rep. Hager:  “They’re more on mandating and telling folks you have to do this energy efficiency, as opposed to letting the homeowner decide that.  Here’s how to build a basic house.  Now do you want more insulation?  Do you understand the cost of it?  Do you want better windows, more insulated windows?  Do you understand the cost of that?  I’m more about putting those decisions in the hands of the homeowners and the homebuilder, rather than dictating it through a government entity.”

Click the audio files above to hear full interviews with H120 Primary Sponsor Representative Mike Hager and with State Director of the North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club Molly Diggins.