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Business: Energy requirements boost price but save on bills

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New residential energy efficiency requirements are boosting the price of home construction by thousands of dollars. But government officials and local builders say new homes also will save homeowners money in the long term through lower heating and cooling bills.

From insulated basements and crawlspaces to a more efficient furnace and better windows, local contractors since April have had to comply with tougher regulations.

Local homebuilder Bob Phillips said the new requirements can add about $4,500 to a $300,000 home.

However, he said the consumer is getting a more energy-efficient home.

“They’re getting their money’s worth. They’re going to (save) money in the long run,” Phillips said.

Fellow Columbus builder Joel Spoon, owner of Spoon Construction, said he views the new requirements with a little more ambivalence.

“It’s raising the price. We don’t like to see the price of a new house go up,” Spoon said.

Higher prices in Columbus could sway consumers to build in Jackson or Brown counties, where builders do not have to meet the same standards because those counties are considered to be in a different climate zone.

Spoon said that could harm the Bartholomew County economy because home construction fosters economic growth as it benefits appraisers, lenders, real estate agents, developers, lumber yards and subcontractors.

On the flip side, Spoon said, consumers will welcome lower heating and cooling bills and consume less energy, which will provide long-term benefits.

One of Spoon’s frequent subcontractors, Jack Norton, recently stood beneath the frame of a yet-to-be-finished home on the city’s west side and pointed to some of the required upgrades.

Norton owns Columbus-based Right Choice Heating and Air and has worked in the industry for nearly 30 years.

As he stood on the ground floor of a roughly 4,000 square-foot custom home in Westbrook, a new Tipton Lakes community west of ABC Stewart School, he pointed toward a thin foam insulation board that had been placed between the wooden exterior wall and the fluffy insulation material toward the interior. The foam will help trap and repel heat, cold and moisture.

Added insulation and a vapor barrier between the ground floor and the attic also will help homeowners keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter, Norton said.

Double-paned windows, more tightly sealed ducts and insulated basements are making new homes so air tight that furnaces now require an air intake vent, he said. Previous homes were leaky enough that the furnace could simply draw from air in the house. In new homes, that would leave too little air for the occupants.

Home builders have to hire a company to test whether the new home meets the new energy efficiency requirements.

Mark DeBusk, assistant chief code enforcement officer in Bartholomew County, said builders have some leeway in how they can meet the new requirements. For example, they can forgo some added insulation in some areas if they make up for it through a more efficient furnace or less energy intense light bulbs.

DeBusk said local builders probably were coming close to meeting the new standards even before they were implemented.

He said his office has fielded questions — and heard some grumblings about costly insulation requirements for basements — especially right before and after the standards took effect April 5. Builders still were learning about the new regulations, he said. Local inspectors have taken classes to familiarize themselves with the new requirements and have disseminated information to local contractors.

Norton said the new regulations will lower consumers’ heating and cooling bills by 25 percent.

“I’m glad Indiana stepped up,” he said.

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