Dittmer: Outdated energy standards hurt Utah
Utahns are struggling to keep our homes warm this winter and most of us are paying far more than we should.
This doesn't have to be the case. Simple energy-saving fixes like sealing leaky ducts and gaps around windows and doors and adding insulation puts money back in your pocket and increases the comfort of your home.
Sounds simple enough, right? Then why aren't more homes built this way to begin with? The sad truth is that Utah's construction code doesn't require it, and some homebuilders build to the bare minimum on energy efficiency, leaving you and me with drafty, cold homes, higher energy bills and sometimes expensive repairs.
Utah's home energy code lags far behind other states. As a matter of fact, lobbyists are swarming the State Capitol right now trying to unravel a delicate compromise that would bring our state law up to date by adding poisonous provisions that would prevent the Legislature from reviewing home energy standards for another 12 years. Homeowners and home buyers should be outraged.
In the last two years alone, my colleagues and I have inspected energy use in more than 2,000 homes across the state of Utah. On average, we found that 20 percent or more of a home's total energy is being wasted. That translates into an extra $200 or more in energy bills each year, even before factoring in the rising cost of energy.
Let me give you a real-life example of an actual home in Utah built within the last 10 years. The second floor is substantially colder than the rest of the house in the winter and almost unbearably hot in the summer. In an attempt to make it comfortable for the kids' rooms upstairs, the homeowners crank up the heat in the winter and air conditioner in the summer, increasing their energy use and bills.
Temperatures improve somewhat, but not enough. So they add an electric space heater and ceiling fans, (another expense). They finally decide, over enough time, that they need to upgrade the furnace (there goes more money) and get a high efficiency unit, only to find the kids are still cold again that winter and hot in the summer. Why? During an audit of the home's energy use, inspectors found that one wall was completely missing insulation, with multiple air leaks and leaking ducts. High-efficiency systems won't work as they should if the building envelope is compromised and there are leaks all over the house!
I see the consequences of energy inefficient construction practices every day. Like many of us, the families I serve are struggling to pay ever-rising energy bills and can't enjoy areas of their home because they are too hot or too cold and are suffering from health conditions caused by poor indoor air quality.
All this could be completely avoided if homes were built to a higher standard. Not only does making a home more energy efficient save occupants money, it also helps drive down energy prices for everyone. Utah utilities are struggling to keep pace with the state's growing demand for energy. The more energy-efficient buildings are, the less energy they use, which reduces pressure on utilities to build expensive new power plants or buy power on the open market which all Utahns pay for through their energy bills.
We simply can't afford to let energy waste and costs spiral out of control. It's time for lawmakers to stand behind Utah residents and make sure every new home in the state is built to higher energy efficiency standards.
Jason Dittmer is the president of the Utah Home Energy Performance Association, a trade association of Utah's home performance professionals, and lead analyst for DwellTek, a Utah-based solar and home performance company.