Maine home builders prepare for new energy efficient building codes

With home construction on the rise in Maine, contractors will face new demands this summer. From July 1, the state is raising minimum standards for insulation and ventilation in new homes. This is part of the government’s efforts to improve the energy efficiency of Maine’s housing stock.

The ultimate goal of realigning Maine’s building codes is efficiency, to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool homes and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

“This is hope,” said Paul Demers, a former Kennebunk code officer who now holds the title of Maine State Building Official, a position created by the Legislature alongside the new standards of ‘efficiency.

“In a climate that goes from the extremes of last week in the ’80s and’ 90s to 10 or 15 or 20 below zero with no ulterior motive in winter,” Demers said. “The advantages of what we offer with these energy codes are that they give us better heating performance in winter and better cooling performance in summer, so you can save money all year round. “

Codes will require that the walls of a new home have stronger thermal barriers between the exterior and interior walls. They will also ensure that new residential structures are more airtight, measured by the number of times the air inside is renewed in an hour. Previously, the air could turn seven times in an hour and meet the code, but now it will only have to be three times.

Manufacturers are scrambling to digest all the new regulations.

“One of the cool things is they’re super complex,” said Matt Marks, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Maine. He says that while designers and builders on a commercial scale may already be familiar with the new standards, small homebuilders – and their customers – will likely need time to get up to speed, especially on how to keep compliance costs at a reasonable level.

“We were late in adopting the codes on a large scale, and the board had a timeline to try to deal with all codes, including energy efficiency, and I know that is going to have a drastic impact, especially in the domestic market, ”said Demers.

Investments in efficiency should ultimately save homeowners money, reducing their energy bills each year. But they add upfront costs of hundreds of dollars or more. And with the price of building materials already dragged down by supply chain issues linked to a pandemic, some future homeowners face tough choices.

“We’ve had people approaching us to maybe downsize what they were originally going to build. So instead of a 2,000 square foot house, they’re going to build a 1,500 square foot house, ”said Jessica Hanscombe, who heads Portland’s permits and inspections department.

Hanscombe said she and her staff will attend state-run training courses on the new codes in the coming days, meetings that begin just a week before the new codes go into effect. After that, city staff have another challenge: learning the ins and outs of even tougher efficiency standards that city voters passed in a broad referendum on the Green New Deal. last year.

This article appears as part of a media partnership with Maine Public.

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