by David Brems and Kevin Emerson

Originally published by Deseret News

Air pollution is a top concern for Utah citizens. So is financial stability. Improving our air quality while saving money for Utahns is a win-win opportunity. This summer, decision-makers will be voting whether or not to adopt up-to-date building energy codes that will help new homes and buildings constructed in Utah cut energy waste, lower air pollution and reduce Utahns’ energy bills.

The average Utah home wastes far too much energy because it was not designed and constructed with energy efficiency as a priority. This is where the energy conservation codes come in. While lacking the flashy glamor of solar panels or electric vehicles, the “2015 International Energy Conservation Code” can dramatically reduce energy waste and related air pollution by incorporating common sense, readily available, yet often invisible efficiency solutions to new homes and buildings.

Industry leaders like GSBS Architects and public interest organizations like Utah Clean Energy see tremendous value in adopting the new energy code. But despite the benefits it brings to Utah families, businesses and consumers, getting the new code adopted has become a political undertaking. It shouldn’t be. Just consider the benefits from updating the energy codes.

First, newer energy codes reduce energy usage and deliver long-term reductions to homeowners’ utility bills. This is a straightforward equation that will keep $1.7 billion in the pockets of Utah homeowners between the years 2017–2040, according to a new analysis by the Building Codes Assistance Project. This is too much money to waste through continuing inefficient building practices.

In addition to creating financial returns, up-to-date energy codes will benefit Utah’s air. According to the Utah Division of Air Quality, homes and buildings now contribute nearly 40 percent of the emissions that cause Utah’s unhealthy air — and this percentage is expected to grow. While inefficient new buildings demand more energy and cause needless pollution, energy-efficient new homes and buildings provide a long-term tool to reduce air pollution by lowering energy waste, thereby reducing the resulting pollution emissions over the 100-plus-year life of each structure.

We’re not the only ones who hold this view. The Clean Air Action Team, which was formed at the request of Gov. Gary Herbert to develop recommendations to improve Utah’s air quality, recently endorsed adoption of energy codes. The “CAAT,” which was made up of legislators, business representatives, experts and advocates, issued numerous recommendations to the Utah Legislature and Gov. Herbert, including the recommendation to “Update the state building code to include the energy efficiency standards of the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code.” The time is right for Utah decision-makers to follow through on this important recommendation.

This summer a little-known group of local government and building industry experts, the Uniform Building Code Commission, is undertaking a formal review of the new 2015 energy code. This commission will provide its recommendation to Utah lawmakers during the Legislature’s interim session this summer, to be debated during the upcoming 2016 legislative session. During the last session, House Bill 285 would have changed Utah’s building code adoption cycle for new single-family homes from every three years to every six years. Luckily, this legislation failed to pass last session but will likely be proposed again. If this bill were to pass, an estimated 60,000 new homes would be built using out-of-date standards until at least the year 2022, causing unnecessary energy waste and needless air pollution.

Utah has much to gain by updating the energy codes currently on the books. Our state’s air quality and financial well-being deserve the long-term benefits that the 2015 energy codes have to offer.

David Brems is a principal with GSBS Architects and member of the governor’s Clean Air Action Team. Kevin Emerson is the senior policy associate for Utah Clean Energy and a public member representative of the Uniform Building Code Commission.