Builders question whether to delay projects until new county energy code is in place

  • NANCY COOK LAUER/West Hawaii Today Plans Examining Manager Neil Erickson and Information Specialist Denise Laitinen address a crowd of about 50 Monday in Hilo on changes to the county energy code.

Balancing energy conservation with building costs was top of mind Monday, as about 50 designers, builders and homeowners quizzed county Building Division staff about proposed changes to the county energy code.

A similar session is scheduled for 5-6:30 p.m. today in council chambers at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

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The 40-page draft code would replace the more stringent International Energy Conservation Code that went into effect Aug. 15.

Maui modified its code in March and Kauai modified its in November, leaving Hawaii County and Oahu using the one-size-fits-all international code. A bill is currently making its way through the Honolulu City Council as well, but has not yet been adopted.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, chairwoman of the council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, hopes to schedule a committee hearing for the measure Dec. 3. The county hopes to have an amended energy code in place by March.

Meanwhile, the county is required to use the more restrictive international code, which builders say add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of construction.

One issue the county and builders are facing now, however, is whether builders will delay their projects until the new code is in place.

Daniel Bona of Bona Design said his plans already are getting rejected for “weird little things that make no sense,” such as doors not being counted for ventilation if they don’t include screens and not having a placard in the home stating it meets the energy code.

“Why are we making people do it if we won’t have to later?” Bona asked.

Building Plans Examiner Kelly Wilson said delaying construction until a new code is put into place is probably not practical either, as construction costs are going up.

“A lot of it is uncharted water for your side and our side too,” Wilson said. “If we could amend a lot of this out, it would be a happier world on both sides of the counter.”

The proposed code tracks many of the changes Maui and Kauai made, while also including changes specific to Hawaii Island.

For example, the current requirement of fully insulated roofs would be replaced by a choice of at least one of these three options: Energy Star compliant roof covering, radiant barrier or attic ventilation via a solar attic fan, or ridge or gable ventilation. That proposal was made after the Roofing Contractors of Hawaii reported the existing international code would double the cost of roof insulation.

The new version also allows jalousie windows, a popular and low-cost way to passively cool homes on the island. And it would make the blower door test, where an air-conditioned building is tested to see if it’s airtight, discretionary rather than mandatory.

The proposed code doesn’t prohibit the use of nonstandard materials or construction, such as in indigenous Hawaiian architecture. It gives the building code official discretion to require construction plans, research reports and tests prepared by a registered design professional in order to determine whether to allow lower energy standards.

The code applies to new construction and major renovations, not existing structures.

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The draft energy code can be found online at www.hawaiicounty.gov/departments/public-works/building/bulletins.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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