(photo by Kevin Herrera)

MAIN LIBRARY — Environment California released a new report Tuesday that showed families could save beau-coup bucks on electricity bills if lawmakers continue to push toward bold efficiency goals for buildings in the Golden State.

The report called for steady improvement to the building codes, investment in retrofits to existing buildings to increase efficiency by 30 percent and supporting financing to create public and private investment in building efficiency.

Sean Carroll, a federal field associate with Environment California, was joined by Jessica Lass of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Brenden McEneaney of City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment in front of the Santa Monica Main Library, which was held up as a model for sustainable building practices.

The library has a white roof to better reflect sunlight, insulation that covers walls from door jamb to door jamb and air conditioning that cools from underneath the floor to reduce energy needs, McEneaney said.

“We’re already finding other strategies to reduce energy use,” McEneaney said, including motion sensors in rooms and lighting changes in the parking structure.

Simple steps to achieve greater efficiency in existing homes and tightening building codes for new buildings could put as much as $450 back in the pockets of Californians, according to the report.

Heating, cooling and powering buildings consumes 40 percent of the energy used in America, according to Environment California. Much of that energy comes from “dirty” sources, like coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power.

Improving efficiency would reduce projected energy use by 25 percent by 2030 and prevent the emission of 17.49 million tons of pollution every year. That’s the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road.

California has long been a leader in green building.

New building guidelines will reduce 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and prevent the need to build eight or more new power plants over the next 30 years, Lass said.

That will create up to 3,500 jobs annually.

“Once the standards are in full effect in 2014, California will save at least $100 million a year in the form of lower electricity bills,” Lass said.

Green building policies are a double-edged sword for those in the building industry.

KB Home of Southern California builds ultra-efficient communities in subdivisions that include solar power and other amenities at relatively low cost.

They can do that because of the scale on which they build, said Steve Ruffner, the company’s division president.

“It’s easier for us to do it,” Ruffner said. “We’re a production builder, and we have a price on sun power that no one can beat.”

The company uses that to market to consumers in an attempt to woo them from KB’s biggest competition — foreclosed homes.

“The majority of the resales are lower cost than the competition,” Ruffner said. KB hopes to sell their homes based on the cost of home ownership, which they say is lower than an old home.

While green standards can be a boon to companies that have embraced them, they can also hurt builders trying to compete in a tough housing market.

California just ended its third worst consecutive housing year since 1955, said Silvio Ferrari, a legislative advocate and engineer with the California Building Industry Association, and adding to the cost of building homes won’t help.

The building code in California has gotten so strict that it’s begun costing $100 for every 1 percent increase in efficiency standards, Ferrari said.

“It makes it difficult to continue to be able to get your money back on reduced utility bills over the life of a dwelling,” he said.

The association is completely on board with retrofitting old homes, however.

Right now, there are 13.4 million existing homes in the state. Of that, 9.1 million or about 68 percent were built prior to the energy code coming into effect, Ferrari said.

“We’ve been telling them for years that you guys need to spend more time addressing the existing housing market,” Ferrari said.


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