The local option to adopt the stretch code comes out of the Green Communities Act that we passed in 2008.  In communities adopting the stretch code, new homes and major renovations will have to meet lower energy use targets.

It is a sound step forward. To put it in perspective, it requires major home renovations to result in 20% less energy use than the current energy codes allow. Through the recent renovation that my family did we are using 48% less energy (68% less when you factor-in on-site renewables and appliance efficiencies). In other words, a 20% reduction during renovations is not the maximum feasible reduction by any means. The cost-effectiveness decreases as one goes to very deep cuts in energy, but the stretch-code is in the reasonable zone.

One of the key ideas in the stretch code is the use of performance testing as one way of meeting code. In our recent renovation, we built a blower door performance standard in to our contract.  Blower door testing measures the air-sealing of the building.  The photo above shows interim blower door testing in progress. The clear definition of performance standards contributes to higher quality construction — our builder substantially exceeded our target.

If you weren’t able to make the meeting noticed below, see this excellent summary of the stretch code.

Belmont Energy Committee

Public Forum Announcement

Sustainable Belmont would like to inform you of an important presentation regarding the potential adoption of the “Stretch Code” at Belmont’s Town Hall. A public forum is scheduled for Monday night, March 28th, from 7:30 to 9:30 to hear input on the new energy efficient building code.

Sponsored by the Belmont Energy Committee, the forum will present Marc Breslow, Director of Transportation and Building Policy for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to discuss the Stretch Code. Breslow is the head of the state office helping communities adopt and implement the Stretch Code statewide.

Belmont’s Annual Town Meeting will consider adopting the Stretch Code when it meets in April. To date, all of Belmont’s neighboring communities, except Waltham, have adopted the Stretch Code, including communities such as Arlington, Watertown, Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, Medford, Concord and Lincoln.

The Stretch Code is an energy efficient building code adopted by the state Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS). The ‘Stretch Code’ is an optional appendix to the Massachusetts building energy code that allows cities and towns to choose a more energy- efficient option. This option increases the efficiency requirements in any municipality that adopts it for all new residential and many new commercial buildings, as well as for those residential additions and renovations that would normally trigger building code requirements.

The Stretch Code offers a streamlined and cost effective route to achieving approximately 20% better energy efficiency in new residential and commercial buildings than is required by the base energy code. This is largely achieved by moving to a performance-based code, where developers are required to design buildings so as to reduce energy use by a given percentage below base code, rather than being required to install specific efficiency measures. Developers have flexibility to choose cost effective and appropriately designed solutions. Many of these changes have been endorsed by the federal Department of Energy and are likely to be incorporated into the commercial chapter of the next International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) in 2012, upon which the state building code is based.

There have been mounting calls for additional stringency in the building energy code, linked to the desire to reduce energy costs, cut dependence on imported fuels, and address concerns about climate change and national security. Several towns and cities asked for the ability to adopt their own stronger energy code, and/or proposed legislative changes to allow municipalities to strengthen their building code and zoning options.

In response to this, the BBRS, along with the state’s energy and environmental agencies, collaborated with regional and national code experts to develop one ‘stretch’ code that is consistent across the state, in order to meet demands for a stricter code without having multiple standards in different cities and towns.

According to Jan Kruse, chair of the Residential Sub-committee of Belmont’s Energy Committee, adopting the Stretch Code is a critical step toward achieving the emission reduction goals previously approved by Belmont’s Town Meeting. In the fall of 2009, Town Meeting endorsed the objective of reducing carbon emissions in Belmont by 80% by 2050.

Construction costs are estimated to increase approximately $3,000 for a typical single family home, and by 1% to 3% of total costs for commercial buildings.  Kruse notes, however, that after energy cost savings on heating and electricity are included, these higher performance standards save money. For example, a residential home purchased with a 30- year mortgage would typically result in net savings to the homeowner in the first year due to energy bill savings that are larger than the increase in mortgage payments from construction and financing costs. Case studies of commercial buildings utilizing the improvements on which the commercial code changes are based have shown paybacks of two to three years.

The public is encouraged to attend the Energy Committee forum. The forum will be an opportunity for Town Meeting Members to become informed of the Stretch Code warrant article that will come before Town Meeting this spring.

Respectfully submitted,
John Kolterman   co-chair of Sustainable Belmont

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.