February's construction

Last Friday, we published a story I wrote about a 47 percent increase in Twin Cities housing construction during February.

The gist of the story was that single-family construction increased dramatically, and unseasonably, because builders were eager to get their spring permits before implementation of the new codes.

The headline said, "Codes bring building surge; rule changes are expected to increase the cost of building a house."

The story quoted a representative from the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, and who estimated that an amended energy code that went into effect in mid-February could increase the cost of a new house by $6,000 to $10,000. And that didn't count another change that took effect in late January that requires fire sprinklers in houses larger than 4,500 square feet, including the basement.

Several readers were critical of the story, noting that it appeared to favor the position of the builders, in part because the story didn't describe the potential cost savings and other benefits offered by the new energy code. At least a couple noted that the story didn't quote any building officials, who have largely been proponents of the sprinkler requirement.

All valid points.

James Honerman, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, also wrote to offer this perspective from Scott McLellan, executive director of the Construction Codes and Licensing Division:

"Based on research that was developed during the adoption of the codes, the new Minnesota Residential Energy Code is estimated to add around 75 cents a square foot to the cost of a new home using conventional construction techniques. This amounts to around $2,500 for a two-story walkout house of 3,300 square feet.

"The U.S. Department of Energy estimates Minnesota's new residential energy code will provide homeowners an average household energy savings of $669 each year with a payback of 5.7 years.

"The DOE's publication 'Minnesota Energy and Cost Savings for New Single- and Multifamily Homes' identifies the cost savings of going to the 2012 International Energy Code from our state's previous Minnesota Energy Code."

Builders continue to battle regulators over the new rules.

What's next?

• In mid-January, BATC filed a petition with the Minnesota Court of Appeals challenging the Department of Labor and Industry's amendments, requesting a delay in enforcement until a decision is made on the main petition.

• BATC is in the process of preparing briefs and an oral argument.

• The Appeals Court is expected to rule in the next two to three months.

In the meantime, the updated codes remain in effect.

Jim Buchta