THE STRETCH CODE. Huh?

The stretch code explained–I couldn’t have done it better myself-  see below for a letter to the editor detailing what this energy efficient building code is all about

This Thursday (tomorrow) at the Lenox Town Meeting at the Duffin Theater at the High School those present will vote on whether the town should adopt an energy savings building code called the Stretch code.  The Town of Lenox must adopt it in order to meet all the criteria to become a Green Community under the Green Communities Act.  By meeting all of the criteria, the town will become eligible to receive up to $1 million in funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The town has been working to meet all the criteria, including adopting a fuel efficient vehicle policy and developing an energy plan to reduce energy usage by the municipality by 20% in 5 years. Adopting the Energy Savings Building Code is one of the last criteria that the town must meet in order to qualify.

Information about the Energy Efficient Building Code, called the STRETCH code can be found below in a letter to the editor written by the Co-Director of CET, Laura Dubester and in a FAQ sheet which will give additional background.  I welcome your questions and comments and hope you will come to lend your support on tomorrow.

And a Personal PLUG (hahaha) Please mark on your calendars May 20 and June 24 at 7pm for the two PLUGGED-In Energy Forums at the Lenox Town Hall, sponsored by lenox unplugged.  These forums will serve as educational opportunities for town and county residents to learn about their energy usage and its consequences and to discuss what changes we can make.  The Speaker line up will be announced next week.  We hope you can join us.

And now, may I present to you… the stretch code.

Comments on new statewide building code

To the Editor:

Reducing our energy consumption is the most effective way to reduce the amount of money we spend on energy and at the same time lessen climate changing greenhouse gas emissions. Here in the Berkshires, we are all too familiar with the impact of rising energy costs for our homes, businesses and local economy.

Buildings account for about 40 percent of the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. The updated and upgraded energy portion of the new statewide MA Building Code that went into effect in January 2010 will transform new construction practices so that residential and commercial buildings will use less energy every year for decades.

Fourteen communities across the Berkshires and over 100 communities across the state are working toward designation as Massachusetts “Green Communities” and adopting the Stretch Code is one of the criteria to demonstrate leadership in energy efficiency and meet that designation. Springfield, Greenfield and Cambridge are among the cities that have adopted the Stretch Code and more towns will be joining this group as Town meeting season is upon us.

The Stretch Code is actually a small stretch from the larger leap of the new minimum code requirements. The additional efficiency requirements of the Stretch Code will result in larger energy and dollar savings for homeowners, tenants and commercial buildings for years to come.

The good news is that many architects and builders in the Berkshires are already designing and building to meet ENERGY STAR Home standards, which are consistent with the new statewide building code. For these building professionals, existing practices will only need to be tweaked to meet the Stretch Code resulting in a minimal incremental cost.  The $8,000 upgrade cost of a Stretch Code home referenced in the recent Berkshire Record article is the estimate for a builder that usually builds to the old minimum code (prior to the new statewide code upgrade). Any energy related increase in construction costs will be more than offset by the ongoing annual energy savings. Unlike other construction cost increases, such as the rise in lumber and plywood costs, increased energy efficiency is a highly valued upgrade that homeowners will smile about for decades.

Many organizations, including the Center for Ecological Technology (CET) in the Berkshires, have been working for years to help reduce energy consumption of existing and new buildings. The requirement of independent HERS ratings to verify compliance will help the code officials ensure that the design and attention to detail during the construction phase will result in the projected energy savings.

A growing workforce of trained energy specialists and independent raters are ready to assist designers and builders in making new construction cost effective AND energy efficient. ENERGY STAR Homes, a program sponsored by MA gas and utility companies, offers incentives and technical assistance to builders that will pay for most of the cost of the HERS ratings required by the Stretch Code.

We must not fall back into complacency again. High energy costs have and will continue to hurt our economy unless we get smarter about the way we construct our homes and commercial buildings. A small increase in the upfront costs is more then recovered in savings on energy costs. A decision to go with the Stretch Code makes sound economic sense.

Laura Dubester

CET Director

Top 10 Stretch Code FAQs
1. What is the ‘stretch’ code?
The ‘stretch code’ is an optional appendix to the Massachusetts building energy code that allows cities
and towns to choose a more energy-efficient option. This ‘stretch code’ option increases the energy
efficiency code requirements in any municipality that adopts it, for all new residential and many new
commercial buildings, as well as for those residential additions and renovations that would normally
trigger building code requirements.
2. How is the stretch code different from the existing ‘base’ energy code?
The stretch code appendix offers a streamlined and cost effective route to achieving approximately 20% better energy efficiency in new residential buildings, and 20% in new commercial buildings, than is
required by the existing base energy code. This is largely achieved by moving to a performance-based
code, where developers are required to design buildings so as to meet an energy target substantially
better than code, and have flexibility in how they meet that target to allow for cost effective and
appropriately designed solutions. New residential construction must use the performance-based
approach, but residential renovations and most commercial buildings may instead follow a ‘prescriptive’route that requires a set of specific energy efficiency improvements, which in the commercial case add up to approximately a 20% improvement over the current code. Many of these changes have been endorsed by the federal Department of Energy and are likely to be incorporated into the next International Energy Efficiency Code (IECC) in 2012, so to a large degree the stretch appendix is an early look at the potential ‘next’ code.
3. What is the anticipated cost of implementing a more stringent energy code?
Initial adoption of a higher performance standard for buildings is likely to result in slightly higher first costs for new construction, estimated to be approximately $2000-$4000 for a typical single family home, and in the 1% to 3% range for commercial buildings. However, after energy cost savings on heating and electricity are included these higher performance standards save money. In addition, the electric and gas utilities in the state provide financial incentives that further reduce the upfront costs of high performance buildings, and allow for faster returns on the investment in energy saving measures.
For example, a residential home purchased with a 30-year mortgage would typically result in net savings to the homeowner in the first year due to energy bill savings that are larger than the increase in mortgage payments from construction and financing costs. Case studies of commercial buildings following the energy efficiency recommendations on which the commercial code changes are based have shown paybacks of 1 to 2 years, when standard incentives from electric utilities are included on the benefits side.
4. Does the stretch code apply to major renovation projects as well as new construction?
For commercial buildings: no, for residential buildings: yes. The ‘stretch’ energy code does apply to
residential building renovation and addition projects, but has less stringent energy performance
requirements for renovations than for new buildings. In addition, renovators have the option of using a
simple ‘prescriptive’ path to code compliance, installing specified efficiency measures, instead of
performance testing. This greater flexibility is available for residential renovations due to the greater
design constraints in working with an existing building. Due to the wide variety in types and conditions of commercial buildings, at this time there are no widely-accepted standards for renovating such buildings, so only new commercial buildings are covered by the stretch code requirements.
5. If I’m doing a small remodeling project, like a kitchen or a bathroom renovation, will I have to
meet the stretch energy code?
If a small renovation involved replacing a couple of windows and opening part of a wall cavity, then those new windows and wall cavity would have to be brought up to the stretch energy code, just as the
plumbing in the kitchen or bathroom being remodeled would have to comply with the plumbing code.
However, improving a kitchen or bathroom would not trigger required changes to the rest of the home
such as attic insulation or a new heating system. Only the systems being modified have to be brought up
to code. Despite not being required, your contractor, utility company and code official may help advise on cost effective changes – often with tax and rebate incentives to reduce your energy bills that you may want to consider doing at the same time.
6. What financial savings/rebates are there from building to the stretch code?
The stretch code is designed to allow builders to get the maximum benefits of the existing Energy Star
Homes program with its full range of training, support and financial incentives. A new home with a HERS rating of 65 or less currently qualifies for $1,250 from the Energy Star utility sponsors, and additional rebates are available for installing high efficiency heating and cooling equipment, appliances and lighting.
The utility companies also partially cover the cost of hiring a HERS rater to work with the builder. In
addition to these Massachusetts-based incentives there is a federal $2,000 tax credit available for homes built with less than half of the heating and cooling load of a 2004 code home. The HERS rater and
software can tell you whether a new home qualifies for this and the HERS report provides the core
documentation needed.
For existing home renovations there are tax credits for the homeowner as well as the same utility
incentives on efficient equipment, appliances, and windows. There are also major incentives available to add insulation to existing homes, through the MassSave program sponsored by the gas and electric utility companies.
7. How is the MA stretch code different from the existing Energy Star for Homes program?
The Energy Star for Homes program is a voluntary program for home builders. In Massachusetts this
program is currently administered by ICF International on behalf of the major energy utilities in the state, and has several hundred builders enrolled. This program accounted for 15% of all new homes in
Massachusetts in 2008. There are 2 or 3 tiers to the Energy Star program. The stretch code essentially
makes the current Energy Star program requirements mandatory in any adopting municipality, and sets a specific minimum HERS index rating of 65 or 70 based on size for new homes, and less strict
requirements for renovations. This standard for new construction is more stringent that the base Energy Star for Homes requirement currently set at 85, but for large homes it is the same as the current Energy Star tier 2 set at a HERS index score of 65.
8. How does the stretch code apply to historic buildings?
The stretch code appendix, similar to the base energy code, allows an exemption for listed historic
buildings. More specifically, historic buildings listed in state or national registers, or designated as a
historic property under local or state designation law or survey, or with an opinion or certification that the property is eligible to be listed, are exempt from both the base energy code and the stretch appendix to the energy code.
9. How soon after a town or city adopts it would the stretch code take effect?
In order to provide consistency among communities, once adopted the stretch code can only go into
effect on January 1st or July 1st,, and there must be at least six months between adoption and when the
stretch code becomes mandatory. For example: if Town A voted to adopt in November 2009, then on July 1st 2010 the stretch code would replace the base energy code as the sole, mandatory energy code in Town A. During the interim period the stretch code would be available as an option for builders to use.
10. How would the stretch code be implemented and enforced?
Once the stretch energy code is adopted by a town or city, it supplements the base energy code
language and becomes the binding energy code language for building projects in that municipality.
Implementation and enforcement of the code is similar to existing code, where the developer is
responsible for submitting documentation of compliance to the building inspector for review, and the
building inspector conducts a site review.
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