New building code regulations could put a crimp in home affordability

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If you're a first-time buyer, you know it's not easy to afford a new home. In Sedro-Woolley, the average median cost of a house is about $214,000. With this difficult economy, it's a challenge to scrimp and save for a required down payment on that price. Although the good news is that down-payment assistance programs exist, the bad news is that state government is about to make overall home affordability more difficult.

During the 2009 session, the Legislature approved a measure that implements new energy building codes. Senate Bill 5854 would incrementally increase energy codes for homes and buildings, beginning in 2013, with the goal of a 70 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2031.

Home energy efficiency is certainly a laudable goal. But with any legislation, impacts to people and the costs versus benefits must be carefully considered. As a former small business owner in the construction industry, I know how government regulations affect home prices. Those of us who opposed this bill were concerned these new, overly restrictive codes could impact construction and affordability of housing for families. To ease those worries, the bill required the Washington State Building Code Council to incrementally advance the codes over an 18-year period.

Although the bill was signed into law, our concerns reached new heights when, in May, the governor directed the State Building Code Council to accelerate the timeline to require a 30 percent energy-use reduction for buildings by July 2010. This directive was issued without an economic impact statement which would have measured the effects to the housing industry and to jobs.

Ramping up energy codes by 30 percent over 10 months is not only unrealistic — it's unattainable. The building industry has lost 47,750 construction jobs since 2007. At a time when unemployment in Skagit County is at 9.3 percent, I'm concerned the proposed new codes could potentially eliminate more jobs.

How would this affect average families? Imagine having to pay 10, 20 or even 30 percent more for a home because of new regulations. In this economy, that puts home ownership out of reach for many people. Consider also that any savings in energy costs would be negated by the higher costs consumers must pay up front. Even if you rent, your costs could go up if your landlord is forced to pay more.

This bill also prohibits state agencies from leasing or renewing leases of buildings unless the owner agrees to upgrade to new energy efficiency standards. This could mean thousands of dollars in unaffordable out-of-pocket costs, leaving many leasable buildings vacant.

And yet, this could be the tip of the iceberg. Imagine that before you sell your home, you would have to meet new, expensive energy codes, and your home would have to be inspected and approved by the state before the sale is allowed. This too, has been under discussion in the Legislature, and a direction I adamantly oppose.

The council is taking public comments regarding the new codes and will review input Oct. 29. I encourage you to get involved and voice your opinion. Get more information from the council's Web site at: www.sbcc.wa.gov and submit your comments to: State Building Code Council, P.O. Box 42525, Olympia, WA 98504-2525.

EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
RepresentativeDanKristiansen.com
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
dan.kristiansen@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000