Get Gephardt: Energy Efficiency or Affordable Housing? Can Utah have both?

Estimated reading time: 6-7 minutes

Salt Lake City – Building Energy Efficient Homes or Making Home Affordable? This is a debate between environmental groups and home builders in Utah.

The debate is happening because it’s time once again to update Utah’s building code. every three years, International Code Council Provides recommendations for all states to update their residential building code.

International Energy Conservation Code 2021 It comes packed with energy-saving mandates for builders: higher-rated insulation, better seals on ductwork and doors, and all interior lights in homes should be energy-efficient.

It is up to each state to decide whether it adopts the code, only parts of it, or none of it.

Energy efficiency saves money

Kevin Emerson, Director of Building Efficiency and Decarbonization at Utah Clean EnergySupports the new code.

“It represents a significant opportunity for affordability by reducing energy use and energy bills, as well as improving the ecological footprint of our communities by reducing emissions that contribute to climate change,” Emerson said. “It helps increase or improve air quality as well.”

Utah is famous for having some of the The worst air on the planet Because of the winter solstices and wildfires in the summer.

Emerson believes it is now time to update the Utah code, something that is only done every six years in the state.

“When homes are more efficient, they use less energy,” Emerson explained. “It exports less. It contributes less to global climate change.”

Kevin Emerson, Director of Building Efficiency and Decarbonization at Utah Clean Energy, supports the new code.
Kevin Emerson, Director of Building Efficiency and Decarbonization at Utah Clean Energy, supports the new code. (Photo: Josh Szymanik, KSL-TV)

Emerson claimed the proposed updates would also save homebuyers money in the long run.

“[The Utah Uniform Building Code Commission]has this national study showing that homeowners are expected to save more than $300 annually, after you pay any additional costs,” Emerson said.

This is a cost-effectiveness reportprepared by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, proposes a life-cycle saving of $5,783 over the 2015 token. Overall, reports say, power upgrades will be repaid with energy savings in 11.1 years for most of Utah.

Not only will it save homeowners money, but the report also shows that statewide carbon emissions will drop by 18,740 metric tons in the first year, with a 30-year cumulative reduction of 9,141,000 metric tons.

While the code change will increase the upfront costs of building a new home — an average of $158 per year for a Utah mortgage — Emerson said it’s important to keep perspective.

“This represents less than 1% of the cost of the home,” he explained. “We fully agree with housing affordability. We believe we can do everything we can to improve housing affordability. However, I would say that housing affordability also continues after the house is built, after it is lived in, and we Need to make sure that’s within reach, too.”

Increase costs without much benefit

Who isn’t on board with the full adoption of the Energy Act of 2021? The Home Builders Association Utah.

“It’s not even that we’re opposed,” CEO Ross Ford explained. “We stand for anything that improves the environment. It is clear that no one is more invested in what our environment is than those of us who build, improve and ultimately sell it.”

The Ford Foundation believes that the updated code does little to help the environment or new home buyers.

“What we’re opposed to is that a lot of these things don’t make any change, they just add expenses so people feel we’ve made a change,” he said.

Groups like Ford’s have done their own studies showing the lack of reward.

Take attic insulation for example. The new code will require a higher isolation value. A higher R value usually means a better reduction in heat flow in the home. but there Scientifically Proven Declining Yield. Once a certain point in the R value is reached, the reduction in heat flow levels to where the benefits between R values ​​are negligible.

The graph shows scientifically proven yield decreases for further insulation.
The graph shows scientifically proven yield decreases for further insulation. (Photo: KSL-TV)

“To add extra insulation to, say, the roof of a house, it hardly increases the performance of the house at all,” Ford said.

stronghold Suggested modifications to several parts From the energy code, such as removing requirements for 100% energy-efficient lighting inside homes and lowering R-values ​​for insulation, with some modifications arguing that the cost-benefit is not there.

In a modification that would change the air seal and ventilation, Ford suggested that the initial cost would be $3,109 homes in st george climate zone, But the house probably won’t stand up once it’s paid off in energy savings.

“It will take 240 years to pay that amount back,” Ford exclaimed.

Ford thought the existing code worked just as well and, in some cases, needed to be rolled back a bit to allow builders to meet customer demand and not price.

“Every time we increase the cost, it’s going to put you in a place where you can’t get home,” Ford said. “One study shows that every time you increase the selling price of a home in Utah, you lose about 1,400 people, and they can no longer qualify for that home.”

Ford said many builders are already doing what they can to improve the energy efficiency of new homes, thanks to the carrot rather than the stick approach.

“The facilities are really good at offering discounts,” he explained. “We found that we get better state-level compliance by offering an incentive. This incentive only works for things with code above. Utility companies can’t provide an incentive if it’s in the code, so every time they stress that code, we lose the incentive and then we lose the incentive.” some of that motive for some builders.”

what happened after that?

Both Ford and Emerson had the opportunity to present their arguments to Utah Uniform Building Code Commissiona group of industry workers who analyze potential changes to the code and recommend to the state legislature what should be adopted into law.

At the committee meeting in August, the symbol He ended up with a compromise of some kind.

The group voted to adopt many parts of the 2021 housing code, such as energy-efficient lighting for all interior lights, with the adoption of several HBA amendments.

Then, these suggestions are sent to Temporary Business and Labor Committee of the Utah legislature, which would debate the proposed changes, formulate its own, and eventually create a bill to make them law.

A bill to adopt energy code changes will likely appear in the 2023 plenary session. The law will apply to any new residence built in Utah, or any renovation work on older homes.

In the meantime, there is a choice in how consumers want their homes to be greener, with many incentives still being offered for energy-efficient products and features.


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Matt Gebhardt

Matt Gephhardt has been in TV news for over 20 years, and as a reporter since 2010. He is now a consumer investigative reporter for KSL TV. You can find Matt on Twitter at @KSLmatt or email him at

Cindy St Clair

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