Ache: Merriam-Webster defines it as a continuous dull pain. Building homes, especially those of the affordable variety, in the city of Albuquerque has become quite the continual pain. The City Council’s recent adoption of the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code is bad policy – for everyone.
In the summer of 2018, the City Council passed a resolution to assemble an expert stakeholder committee to review and evaluate the 2018 Energy Code and make a recommendation to the council that balanced commercial, political and environmental perspectives. Good idea, thoughtful process and laudable policy. After three months the committee meetings abruptly ended without warning when it became clear the majority consensus wasn’t aligned with the administration’s desires. For its part, the builders offered an official recommendation to the city to adopt an updated code, provided there was one amendment for total home air infiltration, known as Air Exchanges per Hour (ACH). This proposed amendment is common nationwide and is being used effectively in Santa Fe. It is also in the state’s proposed code that will go into effect next year.
Air Exchanges per Hour measures the air tightness of a home’s thermal envelope – that area we all pay to heat and cool. Lower is tighter. Think about it like a refrigerator: If you open the door the compressor has to work overtime to keep food cold. Left closed, the food stays cool with less energy consumed.
Let’s be clear, the improvements in residential building envelopes in the past 10-15 years are significant and yield some of the biggest differences between new homes and used homes. The current code requirement is a maximum of 7 ACH, though most newly built homes perform much better. The 2018 Energy Code is generally good policy and prescribes very logical and reasonable improvements in building practices, except for the mandatory ACH requirement reducing from 7 to 3. This nearly 60% reduction is a huge, and unnecessary, step.
The cost/benefit of going from 7 to 5 ACH for a homebuyer is worthwhile. The added monthly cost to buy the efficiency gains is offset by proportional or bigger savings on energy bills. Going from 5 to 3 lacks that proportional benefit. Then there are the air
quality issues when a home is too tightly built. When homes are built below 3 ACH – think of smelly rotting food in that closed refrigerator – the quality of the air we breathe becomes a big concern. To counteract this, we’ll have to mechanically force fresh outside air into the home – a constantly running fan. Build it tighter to save energy, and then expend energy to bring in fresh air; the irony.
Herein lies the rub. We see it. Private-party energy auditors are saying it. Even the city inspectors understand it, though they haven’t been asked to provide public comment. Instead the City Council shut down the expert stakeholder committee when we disagreed and passed legislation that flies in the face of what we and many knowledgeable regulators recommend and have enacted themselves.
That’s poor policy and certainly not representative government.