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Code can cut energy costs

Arn Menconi

Financially, for many of our residents in Eagle County it’s been a very, very expensive winter. Beyond sticker shock at the gas pump, our residential heating bills have soared. We’re learning that internationally, as China rapidly develops, and the politics in Russia and the Middle East restlessly shift directions, that the only certainty we can count on is that we’re going to need more money in the bank to top off our tank.It’s a textbook case of supply and demand. With more users pursuing finite natural energy resources, prices will continue to rise. In a county where our living costs are already high, that worries me. It worries a lot of other folks here in Eagle County too, and it’s got a lot of smart people looking at ways to help keep energy prices from driving up our already expensive housing costs. A solution called eco-build can help. Eco-build is a set of building code requirements that encourages new and rebuilt homes to be constructed to a higher energy saving standard which saves occupants money, consumes less resources, generates less pollution and improves indoor air quality. The staff at Eagle County has developed a state-of-the-art, points-based code that is reasonable and can be met with a variety of options to allow market flexibility and innovation. In addition, a full-time eco-build specialist will be on staff to provide public education, job site demonstrations, consultation, and assistance to owners/builders. This is a crucial step in moving us in the right direction of keeping a brake on rising energy costs.So how does this affect the affordability of housing? It helps. One example shows that the added cost of energy-saving construction techniques adds $5 a month to a mortgage payment, but saves $30 a month in energy costs. That can be a net annual saving of $300 per year over a similar home without eco-build improvements. Today many of the top national mortgage lenders offer energy efficient mortgages because they have hard data which shows that payback from energy efficiency more than pays for the nominal upfront cost increases.I’ve heard some people claim that building efficiently costs too much. I’m keenly aware that a modest upfront increase in the investment of eco-friendly construction can be a hardship, but I would argue that we have plenty of historical data that strongly supports the long term economic benefits of energy saving.The eco-build code also offers a cash-in-lieu option for those not wanting to meet the points which offers more flexibility. Any funds collected will go into a separate fund which will pay for building permit rebates to those builders exceeding compliance with the code. They’ll also go back into the community in the form of energy efficiency grants to upgrade existing and new projects, with special consideration given to affordable housing projects.One example of a possible use of funds would be to improve the energy efficiency of the Eagle Riverview Apartments, in which low-income tenants pay over $300 per month electricity bills in small two-bedroom apartments. This is just one example of poor energy efficiency making affordable housing unaffordable.Eco-build makes sound economic sense. I’ll hope you’ll join me in support for this effort which will benefit our community.Arn Menconi is an Eagle County commissioner. He lives in Avon and can be reached at arn.menconi@eaglecounty.us


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