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Thursday, March 11, 2010 01:02 am

New energy codes leave home builders in the dark

Zinn Construction, a custom home building company based in Sherman, builds eight to ten homes per year, along with a few remodeling projects. But new energy efficiency codes, approved by the state last August, are causing confusion for owner Phil Zinn and his fellow home builders.

Illinois enacted new building codes that require well-insulated basements, thicker walls and energy-saving windows, but the city has yet to enforce them, says Zinn, a member of the Springfield Area Home Builders Association.

Though the codes were officially signed into law last August, Springfield’s city council will not vote on an ordinance that officially adopts the code until April. This time delay means many home builders are not sure whether they’re required to follow the code now, Zinn says. Some could choose to simply ignore the codes for the time being, as the gap between state establishment and local enforcement means there are no current consequences for doing so.

“It’s really taken all builders by surprise,” he says.

The state adopted the codes to match national energy efficiency standards, and to receive federal stimulus money, he says.

Zinn Construction could risk losing projects to home builders who don’t follow the rules, he says. Since many people aren’t aware of the new codes (as well as the costs associated with upgrades), clients may decide to pull projects after hearing estimates.

“It’s affected our bidding process for this spring, because you don’t know if the client will agree to the upgrades,” Zinn says. “If they don’t want to spend that money and it’s federal law, then you can’t take the project. But if the city accepts construction permits with no enforcement, what do you do?”

Zinn says he’s applied for permits in Springfield with building plans that do not meet the new energy codes, and they have been approved, no questions asked.

John Sadowski, a plan reviewer for Springfield’s Building and Zoning Division, says that the city had three months to take action, from the time the law was adopted by the state in January.

Sadowski says the city has revised an ordinance to match the new codes, and the new ordinance will go to city council for a first reading on March 23. The ordinance will likely pass at the April 6 council meeting, he says.

The city has received calls from home builders, who ask when the city will begin to enforce the codes, Sadowski says. But as of now, it’s still up to the individual builder to decide if they’ll follow the codes.

Springfield has been enforcing the International Energy Conservation Code for commercial properties for at least three years, Sadowski says. The new codes apply to individual homes, which is why the city ordinance must first be changed. Previously, zero insulation was required for basements, and windows only needed to be made of double-paned glass. Now, insulation must be applied to all basements, finished or unfinished, and low emissivity or “low-e” glass, specially designed to promote energy efficiency, must be installed in all windows. The code applies to all new homes, and all additions to existing houses.

Once the city gets on board, home builders who don’t follow the code can be denied an occupancy certificate, Zinn says, meaning people can’t move in until the codes are met. But for the homes built between January and April, this presents a dilemma.

“In the next couple of months, if they’re not enforcing it properly, those buildings will need to be grandfathered in, since they were approved without the code changes,” Zinn says. “It’s a sticky situation.”

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.
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