Compromise sought on energy standards in NH building code

Key provision would tighten up new homes, but fall short of national recommendation

If the NH Home Builders and Remodelers Association has its way, energy standards for new construction in the state will be tighter – but not too tight. In fact, from the association’s perspective, they’ll be just right.

The state is currently updating its building code, adopting for the most part the national code of 2015, but as modified by the State Building Code Review Board.

Such codes are always complex, but the most controversial provision can be stated simply: How fast can air escape the building’s envelope?

Currently, the code permits seven air changes per hour. That means the air from outside seeps into the house replacing the air inside it at a rate of under 10 minutes. The national code would make it three times an hour, or once every 20 minutes.

The problem is that some air movement is necessary for human health, so such a system would require a heat recovery ventilator, which could add $2,000 to $3,000 to the cost of a home, contends Paul Morin, who handles government affairs for the Home Builders Association.

“We have to weigh the impact of these regulations to make sure that the homes are still affordable,” Morin said.

In addition, Morin said he was worried that homeowners might not use or service the ventilator, which could cause health problems down the road.

The review board decided to split the difference, coming up with a five-times-per hour standard, which, Morin said, would require some extra caulking and crack-filling but not a ventilator. The cost would be negligible he said.

“It is still going to be more energy-efficient” he said.

He said he has members on each side of the issue. Green builders are arguing that the amount of energy saved will not only help save money but would pay for the upgrade in the long run. And others are arguing that the cost of housing must be kept within reach of the state’s workforce.

As a builder, Morin said he often meets the tighter standards, “but I’m a custom builder. This is a requirement for every single home.”

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