A recent article from WRAL TV in Raleigh said some are concerned with the freeze on building code changes in North Carolina.
House Bill 488 (Session Law 2023-108 also known as SL 108) has provisions that would ban sheathing inspections in the state. Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but it was overridden by the Republican-controlled House and Senate in NC.
Insurance people have said that the bill compromises the durability, safety and structure of the dwelling.
The Home Builders Association representatives say adding another inspection requirement is costly and unnecessary.
What are the real issues?
- The Governor of NC can no longer appoint all members of the Building Code Council. Currently, the Governor appoints all of the members. Is it a good idea to have one person who can unilaterally appoint his cronies to the council? Opinions will differ, but I believe it is a good thing to have the House, Senate, and Governor all involved in the appointment to this council.
There are nine members that must include licensed architects, mechanical, structural, and electrical engineers, fire service representative, licensed general contractor, municipal or county building inspector, and one municipal elected official.
SL 108 also allows the council to create a North Carolina State Building Code that can be more restrictive than international code and can adapt to properties from the mountains to the coast depending upon the idiosyncrasies of a particular locale.
- Homes currently being built in NC operate under code to install a minimum of R-19 insulation on floors and garage ceilings, R-15 on exterior walls, and R-38 for the ceiling and attic. R-value is the capacity of insulating material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.
The International Code has been in existence since 2018, and the NC code in place since 2022. Some builders are now using MPI Foam, which is sprayed on. Spray foam often performs better than the prescribed R-value because of its air-sealing properties, as well as its ability to create a complete fill on the walls and in roof cavities.
If builders were required to use a higher R-value in walls, as some have proposed, it could require builders to use 2X6 studs in the walls instead of 2X4 studs. That would increase the cost of every home at a time when home values are skyrocketing. Would it make a home more durable? That depends on who you ask.
The cost of a 3,200 square-foot house is around $4,500, considering approximately 580 studs, plates at the base and top, plus door jambs and thresholds. Is it worth it?
Most exterior sheathings used these days using either plywood, oriented strand board, or zip systems offer the same structural advantages of 2X6 studs.
- The overall cost differential for energy efficiency varies depending on who you ask. The US Department of Energy estimates the cost of improvement between $4,700 and $6,000. That energy cost could be recuperated in a few years. The NC Home Builders Association estimated the additional costs to be $20,000. They probably put profit on top of that and considered some items that the DOE did not. Ultimately, the real cost is likely somewhere in the middle, between $10,000 and $14,000 for an average home in North Carolina.
- With this freeze, are home buyers purchasing an inferior product?
The old phrase, “They don’t build them like they used to,” is often referenced. It is correct. The difference in quality between a 1960s single-story brick home and one built after 2010 is going to be significantly different. Advancements in technology, energy efficiency, weight, and other factors have allowed us to build houses faster and with more durability.
As an example, compare the cost of keeping up a historic home with that of one built in the last ten years. Historic homes are often very expensive to maintain. That is the case with all homes. The older they get, the more work that will need to be done on them.
Simple math will drive most people. If energy efficiency in a home drives up the price by $12,000 and it saves the homeowner $100 per month in energy costs, it would take a homeowner 120 months (10 years) to recoup the investment.
Pull out your utility bills and add them up. See if that is a plausible number for you and base your decision on that. Some will find it an unnecessary expense, while others will see value in it.