Forty-five Massachusetts cities and towns have already adopted the “stretch code,” which requires higher energy efficiency levels in new construction and additions to residential and commercial buildings, and in major home renovations. Adopting this optional code has helped 35 municipalities become “Green Communities,” making them eligible for state grant funding.
Stretch code communities range from larger cities to suburbs and rural towns, including Lowell, Springfield, Worcester, Salem, Greenfield, Pittsfield, Belchertown, Arlington, Cambridge, Newton, and Easton. In Cambridge and Newton, it has already taken effect as the new building energy code and it will come online in the other cities and towns next year.
As a result of the Green Communities Act of 2008, the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC 2009), which is the latest model energy code in the US, became the energy portion of the state’s building code on July 1, 2010. Technically, the stretch code is an optional appendix to the state’s building energy code. The stretch code allows municipalities to save homeowners, landlords, and tenants even more money by cutting their annual utility bills, while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution from burning fossil fuels.
The building improvement measures needed to meet stretch code requirements are standard techniques that experienced builders and contractors are familiar with – installing high-efficiency heating systems, ensuring insulation is installed correctly, making sure air sealing is done well, and putting in highly efficient light fixtures and bulbs. Once they have seen the details, many contractors say it’s no problem at all:
“As a residential remodeler, being in the business for 37 years, the stretch code is not much of a stretch. It’s how we build responsibly anyway. It’s just smart building,” says Paul Morse of Morse Construction, Inc. in Somerville.
“I have completed over 25 homes in the past four years in Tyngsborough, Townsend and Acton that would meet the stretch code requirement. The energy efficient homes have sold faster than competitors in my market,” adds Carter Scott of Transformations, Inc. in Townsend.
Independent economic modeling done for the state estimates that, for a typical 2,700 square foot single-family home, building to the stretch code specs will reduce electricity and heating costs by about $500 a year over the IECC 2009 base energy code, while only adding $130 to annual mortgage costs - a substantial net savings beginning the first year of home ownership. (Calculation details: extra construction cost to meet the stretch code is about $3,000, out of which the Mass. Energy Star Homes program will rebate $1,300, for a net cost of $1,700. When rolled into a 30-year mortgage, the annual cost is around $130.)
The Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities Program can help interested cities and towns understand the stretch code and plan a process for adopting it. The program has four coordinators covering different regions of the state, and is providing consultant support to over 100 communities. In addition, for builders and subcontractors, the state is sponsoring a second round of training that explains in detail the new base and stretch energy codes. Watch for local or regional forums near you. For more details, visit the DOER building codes page.