On Earth Day, one state commission took the first step toward rolling back energy-efficient building requirements.
The group is the Construction Industries Commission, and the legislation in question is the New Mexico Energy Conservation Code, adopted late last year after more than 12 months of weekly open meetings and five public hearings. During its April 22 meeting, the commission voted unanimously to start the process of repealing the standards. Public hearings are scheduled in four cities on the same day, June 2.
The commission is the same entity that unanimously approved the rules last year, but it has new members appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez. Some believe the decision to reverse the regulations stems from the also-governor-appointed Small Business-Friendly Task Force, which shares two members with the commission. The task force’s position: State rules shouldn’t be more demanding than national standards.
“The people recently appointed to the commission have no working knowledge, really, of how and why the code has been amended to what it is now. They don’t have a pride of authorship.”
Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association
The Energy Conservation Code is a more stringent version of the International Energy Conservation Code. Shrayas Jatkar and Tammy Fiebelkorn, spokespeople for the Sierra Club and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, respectively, helped spearhead the effort to update the international rules to fit New Mexico conditions. “We didn’t just increase energy savings,” says Jatkar, “we designed a code that works for builders in New Mexico specifically.”
They did it, Fiebelkorn says, by looking at how the standards address climate zones in the state. She sat on one of the technical advisory boards involved in adopting the rules. “The international template says there are three different climate zones in New Mexico—northern, central and southern,” she says. “That may work for flatland states, but in New Mexico, it’s not applicable.” The new regulations allow for a much greater range of climate zones, requiring builders to tailor projects suited to each city, not just each region.
The other differences between the international and New Mexico codes are fairly straightforward. The state requires increased insulation, as well as heating and cooling systems that are the right size for each project. It also lets builders make trade-offs—wherein a kiva fireplace or stained-glass window wouldn’t be allowed under the international rules, they would be under the state’s, as long as a builder made up for them with something like extra insulation.
“I think it’s government working the way it’s supposed to work.”
Richard Tavelli is director of the Construction Industries Division
The state code is one of the most energy-efficient in the country, saving 20 percent more energy per project than the international regulation. What that means for homeowners is a monthly savings on utility bills. While building an energy-efficient home can cost more (usually a max of $1,000 is added onto the final price of the home, says Fiebelkorn), the utility savings are great enough to make up for it. Fiebelkorn and Jatkar estimate an average of a $14 per month savings for homeowners.
The process to get the standards adopted involved members of the construction industry from all over the state. At every weekly meeting, anyone was allowed to introduce a proposal. According to Jatkar and Fiebelkorn, most of the final rules were proposed by people in the construction industry, and as a whole, the industry supports it.
Kim Shanahan stands by that statement. As the executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association, he’s a fan of the energy-efficient standards. “It’s not purely prescriptive,” he says. “The performance option allows for creativity to find a less expensive way to do something.” Because the code allows for trade-offs, he considers it business-friendly.
“The people recently appointed to the commission have no working knowledge, really, of how and why the code has been amended to what it is now,” he says. “They don’t have a pride of authorship.”
Richard Tavelli is director of the Construction Industries Division, which oversees the commission. He says the choice to review and possibly roll back the rules is due to the new administration. “In November, the ideological tent changed,” he says. “And now the suggestion is, Why don’t we go through the process one more time?” Tavelli says the commission may review the code and decide it should stay as it is, but its members want another look. “I think it’s government working the way it’s supposed to work,” he says.
The more stringent rules have already been printed in books and distributed around the state. Many members of the construction industry have been educated about the system, says Fiebelkorn. She is one of the people conducting the training. “Funding for the training has been from stimulus funds,” she says. “If we have to redo it, it will come out of taxpayer dollars.”
For Jatkar, the biggest issue is making homes cheaper and safer. “Remember the deep freeze in February,” he says. “Not only were people cold and freezing, but they had astronomical energy bills to pay, and actual damage to their homes. It could have been avoided with common-sense building codes.”