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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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The Battle Over Energy-Efficient Housing is Heating Up Across the U.S.

  • The National Association of Home Builders has significantly inflated the costs of new energy efficiency standards, deterring progress and misinforming the public.
  • State governments view energy efficiency in homes as crucial for climate goals, but face opposition from home builders concerned about profit margins and training for new construction methods.
  • Despite the opposition, energy efficiency, including in appliances, remains a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is essential for curbing global energy demand, with potential savings equivalent to China's total energy consumption.

Energy efficiency is essential for meeting climate goals and studies show that they will save consumers money on heating and electric bills in the long run – so why do standards for energy-efficient housing get so much pushback? One big reason is a nationwide coordinated defensive effort by the National Association of Home Builders, the United States housing industry’s largest lobbying group.

There’s no denying that government mandates that require more stringent energy efficiency standards in newly built homes increase up-front costs. But those costs have been greatly inflated by the home-builder lobby according to reporting from The Washington Post. In North Carolina, one of the major flash points for this surprisingly hot issue, the National Association of Home Builders widely reported that new standards proposed by the state government would increase the average home-building cost by $20,400. A federal study of the North Carolina code update found that the actual figure would be around $6,500.

But the rallying cry against the mythical $20k per home has had staying power, and the anti-efficiency initiative has spread to other states like ColoradoMichigan, Alabama, and Idaho – among others – where the same energy efficiency push and pull between the housing industry and the state government is currently playing out as well. The issue for the governments in these states is that energy efficiency in homes is one of our most powerful entry points for meeting climate goals. The issue for home-builders is concern about profit margins and inefficiencies in training personnel around continuous updates to how homes are designed and built. 

Related: 2 Companies That Could Help Europe Win Its Energy War With Russia

Elizabeth Beardsley, senior policy counsel at the U.S. Green Building Council, said that the pushback from the house building lobby and others in the industry stems from a fear of change that has been steadily intensifying in the face of ever-increasing construction costs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think there’s a group that’s vocally opposing building code changes from legislators, governors and energy offices. [But] the whole idea is that you update energy codes every three years, so it’s gradual and the market can learn those practices as they go along. But, when there’s a delay, then it feels like a hit,” she said to Facilities Dive during a webinar on USGBC’s efforts to establish a rating system leadership standard associated with LEED v4.1 targets.

Energy efficiency in housing code isn’t exactly a thrilling issue – but it has far-reaching consequences. Poorly constructed and aging buildings leak heat in the winter, let in cold air in the winter, and waste a significant amount of energy in the process. This is one of the reasons that homes are responsible for almost a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions on a national level.  

Related: Europe’s Secret Weapon In Its Energy War With Russia

Another key reason that houses are a key source of greenhouse gas emissions are all of the energy-sucking appliances that they contain. Home appliances have also found themselves at the heart of a policy debate in recent years with very similar results. Efficient appliances are critical for energy savings, they pay for themselves in the long term thanks to lower energy bills, and so the government has continuously increased pressure on manufacturers to produce more energy-efficient models. The only problem? Everyone hates them

Despite its unpopularity, energy efficiency standards are a necessary evil for curbing emissions in developed countries. Avoiding any amount of additional energy consumption is a big win for the climate. As the World Economic Forum wrote in a report from the sidelines of COP27 back in 2022, “the greenest energy is the energy we don’t use.” Indeed, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), accelerated and intensified progress toward energy efficiency and energy avoidance could lead to a stunning 95-exajoule drop of final energy demand in 2030. To put that massive amount into perspective, that’s approximately equivalent to the total energy consumption of China – the largest energy consumer in the world by a significant margin.

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 


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Leave a comment
  • DoRight Deikins on March 12 2024 said:
    It's not just about cost efficiency, but cost of ownership, that puts people in a tizzy. So what if an 'energy efficient' device saves you 20% on operating costs, if you have to repair or replace it every five years, rather than every 20 years. Would you prefer a high-efficiency, but highly complex and expensive, heat pump that warms your house as long as the outside temperature doesn't drop below 5º C (40º F) and takes 12 hours to do it, and has to be replaced basically every 10 years? Or a simple gas furnace that takes an hour to heat your home and needs to be replaced maybe every 30 years?
  • fredric longabard on March 13 2024 said:
    "meeting climate goals " says it all!

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