Just when home building is showing signs of life (and as the free market is embracing energy efficiency and green building), the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the most restrictive environmental legislation in U.S. history. The controversial “Cap and Trade” bill passed this summer by the House of Representatives by all estimates would drive up the cost of utilities exponentially. The bill also includes costly and unnecessary code requirements for new construction nationwide. The ill-conceived legislation would place potential home buyers in a no-win situation: they can’t afford to stay where they are, but they also can’t afford to buy a newer, more efficient home.
With the nation’s economy still reeling from economic recession with the housing industry virtually on life support, home builders, realtors and other housing advocates are urging Senators to reject the House bill.
The first Energy Star subdivision of Greene County is under construction to demonstrate the feasibility of energy-efficient homes .
But such private, market-driven efforts will be in jeopardy if U.S. senators approve cap-and-trade rules to control carbon emission, said the developer of the 155-lot Pearson Park northeast of Springfield.
“To me, it’s cap-and-tax,” said Tom Barr, who has stipulated in the subdivision covenant that all homes at Pearson Park must be built to the federal Energy Star standards.
On Friday, Barr and his colleagues in the local building community showcased three energy- efficient homes being built at the 64-acre Pearson Park development.
They seized the opportunity to criticize the proposed cap-and-trade system, contending the new rules would not only hamstring consumers’ financial ability to purchase energy-efficient homes but also make construction of such homes more expensive, putting them further out of the reach of American homeowners.
“The new regulations will paralyze the market,” said Matt Morrow, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield.
In his opening remarks, Morrow noted the residential home market — after 22 months of continuing decline — is finally showing signs of recovery and warned against any regulations that would put the industry back in a lull.
The cap-and-trade system, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in June, is heading to the Senate this fall.
At the heart of the debate is the eventual cost to businesses and consumers.
On Friday, Morrow said the system has been estimated to raise an average family’s utility expenses by more than $1,700 a year.
The cap-and-trade system also would place onerous regulations on construction of energy- efficient homes, making them less affordable, Morrow said.
Barr said market studies have shown homebuyers are willing to purchase energy- efficient homes if they can see tangible monetary savings.
He said green homes are more expensive to build and consumers are less likely to pay extra for some of the environmental benefits that come with a green home.
A green home not only is energy- efficient but also must meet certain standards in other environmental issues such as recycling and material sustainability, Barr said.
Brian Willaby of Richland Homes is the builder of the first three homes at Pearson Park, and Willaby has been working with local contractors and supplies to rein in costs .
An energy- efficient home doesn’t necessarily cost more to build because the extra dollars spent on insulation, for example, can be offset by savings in the heating and air-conditioning system, Barr said.
One of the homes, estimated to use only 52 percent of the energy a standard house consumes and the most energy- efficient of the three, costs slightly more to build, Barr said.
Probably half a percent, said Willaby.
“It’s a minute percentage,” the builder said.
Final cost figures will be tallied when the homes are built, Barr said.
On a price-per-square-foot basis, the homes at Pearson Park will be comparable to non-Energy Star houses, Barr said.
One house, for example, has an asking price of $189,900 with about 1,800 square feet.
An Energy Star home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the official Web site of the federal program.
These homes are at least 15 percent more energy- efficient than homes built to the 2004 International Residential Code, and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20 to 30 percent more efficient than standard homes.