Tuesday, March 11, 2008
City Postpones Green Building Code
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Homeowners will get a little more time before City Hall starts enforcing its new "green" building code.
But city executives aren't backing away from plans to require more energy-efficient furnaces, air conditioners and other equipment.
Albuquerque's Planning Department agreed this week to postpone enforcement of the new building code until July 1 three months later than scheduled. City officials say they're willing to consider technical amendments before then.
But minor changes may not be enough to satisfy critics who say the new code will boost the cost of replacing a heater or air conditioner by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars.
The delay "gives us a little more time to show them how impossible this would be to implement right now the way it's written," said John Richardson of Gorman Industries Inc.
The city says critics are overstating the burden of complying with the new rules.
The dispute centers on the "Energy Conservation Code" crafted by city councilors and Mayor Martin Chávez last summer. The code is intended to cut energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Supporters praised it as one of the strongest in the country.
Planning Director Richard Dineen said the code offers flexibility. Homeowners who don't want to use the 90-percent efficient furnace or the "15 SEER" air conditioner called for in the regulations can opt to make an equivalent energy improvement instead, such as putting in better roof insulation.
"We think it can be done in different ways," Dineen said.
The regulations kick in for new construction or when a homeowner replaces a furnace or cooler. The code calls for homes with air conditioners to have units with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio of 15. The current rules require a SEER of 13.
The extra efficiency is expected to add several hundred dollars perhaps thousands, depending on whom you talk to onto the cost of an air conditioning unit, critics say. Supporters say those costs are "guesstimates" and that homeowners don't necessarily need refrigerated air.
Evaporative coolers aren't subject to the requirement.
Furnaces should be 90 percent efficient, meaning they convert 90 percent of their energy into heat. Critics say the new furnaces could cost an extra several thousand dollars because they produce water that must be connected to a drain.
The city, however, says the furnaces don't have to be connected to the sewer system. Supporters say the extra cost might be in the $400 to $900 range.
City Councilor Isaac Benton said he is willing to consider amending the code to deal with situations in which it's unusually "challenging" to replace a heater or similar equipment.
New regulations for furnaces and air conditioners go into effect July 1.
The requirements kick in for new construction or residents who replace their heaters or coolers.
City planners say they are willing to consider minor amendments.