Hello from Salt Lake City, where the U.S. Department of Energy is hosting its annual energy codes conference. This year's event has a decidedly different feel to it, as codes move from just being in the domain of building officials, to taking center stage for a number of legislative and administrative offices, energy offices, climate change task forces and advocacy groups. NEEP's Carolyn Sarno led this morning's first session on Conducting Grassroots Advocacy to advance energy codes. From the group of utility representatives, manufacturers, building trades professionals, state energy officials, advocates and others who made up the session, a couple of key themes emerged:
1. In these days of new Tea Party-led, anti-regulatory fervor, we need to return to the idea that building codes - including energy codes - are at their heart a consumer protection mechanism. Therefore, consumers and groups who deal with consumers, need to be constantly educated to the purpose and benefits of energy codes.
2. Groups to align with who can help with that consumer outreach include the insurance sector, which, as history tells us, was a driving force behind the original establishment of building codes in this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in response to events like the great Chicago fire. Ditto the financing industry - lenders want to know they're not throwing good money after bad. After all, controlling energy costs allows homeowners to better meet their mortgage obligations.
3. When it comes to fighting the home builders lobby and other opponents of building energy codes, it's all about the money. If builders will argue that codes add to the cost of buying a home to the point of pricing certain people out of the market, then we need to remind consumers that energy codes will, in fact, save them money - a lot of money. There are two costs to anything: the cost to buy it, and the cost to own or operate it. Since energy codes save thousands of dollars over the span of the homeowners occupancy, the economic case is overwhelmingly in favor of building energy codes.
Lastly, Carolyn in her role as facilitator of the group's discussions this morning, cited a quote from the sponsor of a bill in Maine earlier this year that would have repealed the state's new uniform building and energy code. In speaking at a hearing, this state representative said: "I find building codes morally offensive." As this comment was met with gasps and shakes of heads and other indications of exasperation I realized that such idealogues are, thankfully, in the minority in number, but, unfortunately, are often in the majority in power. Which means we all need to continue to build understanding and appreciation for building energy codes from the ground up.