Energy efficient homes are good for homeowners, the economy and the environment. Washington's new energy code will lower energy bills for all, increase the comfort of new homes and reduce pollution. A look at the facts behind Washington's new code can only lead to one conclusion: the time to implement the code and realize its many benefits is now.
The first fact to consider is the long-term benefit to consumers of buying the most energy-efficient building possible. For lots of things, a purchasing mistake is no big deal. Buy the wrong dinner; it’s a problem for the evening. Buy the wrong light bulb and you waste a little on energy bills for a year or two.
Buy the wrong house, and you’re saddled with wasted money and energy for decades. Plus, you’re stuck in a home that’s less comfortable than it should be.
An energy code that automatically builds increased energy efficiency into a building eliminates that risk. Proof that codes work: building efficiency standards in Oregon and Washington developed since 1980 save energy consumers more than $400 million a year on electric bills, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the region’s official power planner.
The new state code saves 18 percent to 26 percent in residential energy use compared to the current code. Every home built while we wait for the new code results in decades of wasted energy and money.
The next fact to consider is how small the additional investment to implement the code actually is, and how quickly new homeowners will recoup that small investment through reduced energy bills. A thorough economic analysis of the code conducted by the state Department of Commerce for the State Building Codes Council shows the investment is a terrific deal for consumers.
The Commerce analysis shows that the code adds about $1 per square foot for the vast majority of homes west of the Cascades. It’s about $2 per square foot east of the mountains, where it’s colder.
In Olympia, the average homeowner will pocket more than as $4,000 in energy bill savings over 15 years. In Spokane, the savings will exceed $7,300, according to the Commerce study. These savings will continue to add up over the life of the home.
That’s thousands of dollars homeowners can spend locally that otherwise would have been wasted.
Recent research shows strong demand for energy efficiency standards. Seventy-eight percent of 1,010 Americans surveyed in June by the Pew Research Center favor tougher energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances. This support is hardly surprising, given the thousands of dollars strong efficiency standards put in homeowners’ pockets
In Washington, the Cascadia Green Building Council — which represents hundreds of developers, builders, architects and engineers — supports the improved energy code because it cuts waste, creates jobs and makes its firms more competitive.
Finally, there is the fact that increased energy efficiency in buildings is the cornerstone of the region’s energy future.
Don’t simply take our word for it. Listen to Washington utilities — public and investor-owned, large and small — who have consistently advocated for the improved energy code and who repeatedly point to energy efficiency as the lowest-cost way to meet new energy demand.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which sets policy that guides the region’s electric utilities, says cost-effective energy efficiency will meet nearly 90 percent of new electric demand over the next 20 years.
All these facts add up to a convincing conclusion: The State Building Codes Council should get the code implemented as soon as possible for the benefit of Washington energy consumers and the region’s environment and economy.
Sara Patton is executive director of the NW Energy Coalition. Jason McLennan is chief executive officer of the Cascadia Green Building Council.