Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Tennessee building code designed to reduce energy waste

Drafty windows, chilly attics and wasteful air conditioners are coming under attack from the state government.
An effort is under way to curb Tennessee's energy-hogging ways with a statewide building code that proponents say could cut consumption in homes by 30 percent or more.

The code would add to the cost of a home, but it has drawn little opposition from local governments or builders. They say they would benefit from the creation of more uniform building standards throughout the state, while buyers of new homes would recoup the upfront cost within three years.

The building code is an often-overlooked aspect of Gov. Phil Bredesen's plan to encourage conservation and foster green energy in the state. It could have a dramatic effect by gradually reshaping the way homes are built, particularly in rural areas where rules have been looser.

"It may cost a little bit on the front end," said Alex Tapia, a Tennessee-based program manager for the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, "but it's going to be paying back for years."

The law attempts to tackle the issue of energy waste in Tennessee. The state's 2.6 million homes consume the second-most energy, per unit, in the country.

At 1,301 kilowatt hours of power, the average Tennessee household consumes more than double that of a home in New England.

Much of the power being used is wasted. Although the state's utilities supply customers with some of the cheapest electricity in the country, Tennessee households wind up spending about $100 a month more than residents in 35 states, according to data compiled by the U.S. government.

State officials believe some of the biggest waste occurs in Tennessee's rural communities. Sixty of the state's 95 counties have no residential building codes.

A task force appointed in 2008 by Gov. Phil Bredesen recommended that the state establish a code that would address energy efficiency and other aspects of construction, noting that 38 states had already done so. The legislature approved the plan in June as part of a comprehensive bill that also set aside money for a West Tennessee megasite and established a fund to make state buildings more efficient.

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