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TribBlog: Let's Hear It for Building Codes

Texas will adopt stricter energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, the State Energy Conservation Office announced today. They will go into effect in 2011 and 2012.

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Texas will adopt stricter energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, according to a notice published today in the Texas Register.

The state will adopt the latest international codes for single-family homes in 2012, and for other residential, commercial and industrial buildings in 2011. To date, Texas' building codes have been less stringent than those of many other states, including neighboring Louisiana and New Mexico.

The new rules will yield up to 15 percent savings in new homes, compared with previous state requirements, according to Environment Texas, an advocacy group. But the group pointed out that by the time the state requirements fully take effect, in 2012, new international standards (which are published every three years) will already be available. So Texas will once again fall behind.

Existing buildings are not covered in the new rules, and environmentalists say this gap needs to be addressed. "Austin's energy audit requirement at the point of sale is a good model other Texas cities should consider," said Luke Metzger, the director of Environment Texas. (Big cities like Austin also have their own codes for new buildings; Austin's is stricter than the state's, requiring new single-family homes to be capable of using zero energy, on net, by 2015.)

Every state was required to commit to pursuing more efficient codes for new buildings as a condition of receiving energy-related funding from the federal stimulus program. In March 2009, shortly after the stimulus bill was passed, Gov. Rick Perry wrote on the state's behalf to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Current Texas state law already provides for the policies referenced in the act," the governor wrote, noting that the State Energy Conservation Office was already evaluating building code improvements. Apparently, that was good enough for the feds, because the Department of Energy has already awarded Texas some $1.4 billion for projects like establishing smart grids and weather-proofing homes.

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