New building standards may make homes healthier, but increase cost

Posted: Monday, February 07, 2000

Revisions the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is proposing to its building standards could increase the cost of your next home.

The revisions technically only apply to homes financed through AHFC, but as energy specialist Phil Kaluza points out, most contractors build to the same standards, anyway.

"Ultimately, it turns out that a lot of contractors build to (AHFC standards)," Kaluza said. "When they seek financing, banks want assurances that the home is built up to standards so they'll be easier to resell. Builders look at it as a statewide standard."

The revisions would require professional measurement and certification of a home's airflow, something contractors now sign off on. They also will require added vapor barriers, increased wall insulation -- from R19 to R21 -- and slab insulation in attached garages, among others. The intent, according to Kaluza, is to help ensure homes certified as four-star-plus actually meet those standards.

"To those who proposed the changes, they don't seem significant at all," Kaluza said. "But some home builders think it's the end of the world."

Jim Brenton, the past president of the Kenai Peninsula Home Builders Association, is among those who disagree with the revisions.

"Several home builders here are planning to submit written testimony," he said.

Brenton, one of the few people who attended the two Kenai meetings on the changes, said he had a handful of objections to the proposed revisions, chief among which is concerns they will increase the cost of building homes.

Brenton said regulations that Visqueen, the heavy plastic sheeting used as crawl space vapor barriers, be extended up the sides of the foundations to the sill plate would add to the cost.

"The higher cost would be for labor as much as the cost of the Visqueen," he said, adding airflow and exhaust-fan testing to the list of possible cost increasers. "We're adding costs to housing that are unnecessary."

Kaluza disagreed, saying a lot of the revisions address complaints AHFC has received over the past several years. Many of them relate to homes built too tightly and the resultant decrease of inside air quality.

"Our biggest complaints are from people who have moisture buildup in their homes," Kaluza said. "Then they get mold and mildew in the corners, and that affects the health of the occupants."

With homes becoming more and more energy efficient, cycling old air out of the home and replacing it with fresh air is even more important. Currently, builders themselves certify that homes meet the minimum ventilation standards, while the proposed revisions would require a building inspector to measure the airflow in a home for it to be certified.

Proposed regulations also would affect wood stoves, fireplaces and furnaces to assure they have airtight doors, efficient chimney dampers and use outside air for combustion.

"We want to turn them into heaters instead of losers," Kaluza said. "Nothing earth-shattering, just one more task to be done."

He said those chimney and furnace regulations are important, especially if a home uses continuously operating bathroom fans for ventilation or has high-volume range hoods and dryer vents.

"A big range hood moves 600 cubic feet per minute, and that air has to come from somewhere," Kaluza said.

But overall, Brenton said he would like to see the revisions be toned down or turned down.

"It looks like interest rates might be going up, and it might not be a good time to add costs to hosing," Brenton said. "They don't need to confuse housing any more than it is, and they don't need any more regulations."

Written comments on the proposed changes will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday.

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