By JAKE CHRISTIE
Capital News Service
LANSING – From insect-based dog food to fusion energy, proposed solutions to climate change vary wildly, but there’s one mundane solution that affects nearly everyone — building codes.
Michigan’s building codes are updated every six years, with the option to update them every three. The state’s Construction Code Commission last updated the codes in 2015, meaning it’s currently working to establish new building codes.
Environmental groups say this is an opportunity to tackle a relatively unaddressed driver of climate change.
“Building codes can have a big impact on it,” said Shanna Draheim, who chairs the commission. “Our buildings are a huge chunk of our greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, estimates of 40% in some cases.”
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that updating Michigan’s codes to match the International Energy Conservation Code guidelines could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 20 million metric tons over 30 years, the equivalent of the greenhouse gasses emitted by about 2.5 million homes.
Abby Wallace, a policy specialist with the Michigan Environmental Council. Said increasing energy efficiency in buildings requires new ones to be built with efficiency in mind. That includes better windows and insulation to reduce temperature fluctuations, more energy- efficient appliances and eventually eliminating a reliance on natural gas for heating and cooking,
Eliminating natural gas in homes is a big ask, Wallace admits. It’s unlikely to be included in new building codes.
In 2015, natural gas heated 76% of Michigan homes, while only 10% were heated with electricity, according to the state Office of Climate and Energy.
Switching from natural gas to electricity would affect more than the climate as gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide, a chemical that can be especially harmful to young children, according to a report from the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute.
Eliminating natural gas in buildings is essential to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Cheri Holman, the executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s West Michigan chapter.
“While we can’t reduce the greenhouse gas emissions created by natural gas, we can create carbon-free electricity,” she said.
In addition to reducing emissions, more energy-efficient homes save homeowners money. While estimates from the Department of Energy’s report note that there would be increased up-front costs to constructing and buying new homes, consumers could see net-positive savings from reduced energy consumption in around five years.
States base their new codes off of general guidelines from the International Code Council and adjust them according to their needs, but the council doesn’t place a priority on energy efficiency, Wallace said.
One concern raised by builders is the lack of choice that strict codes can mean for consumers. While codes were created to ensure public safety over time, they’ve been adopted as a means to implement other policies, such as sustainability and energy efficiency, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Jake Christie writes for Great Lakes Echo.