BLUMER: Missing the big lesson in Ohio’s new building code

By   /   May 30, 2012  /   No Comments

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

Tom Blumer

It’s difficult to glean from the coverage at the Columbus Dispatch and the Associated Press, but the new residential building code, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, in Ohio, promises to reduce the average cost of building a home.

You read that right.

Consider the following far-apart paragraphs at Jim Weiker‘s Dispatch coverage:

“Estimates indicate that the new rules will add between $1,100 and $1,200 to the cost of an 1,800-square-foot two-story home. A 2009 U.S. Department of Energy study of a similar proposed code change in Boston concluded that homeowners would save about $230 a year in energy costs with the new guidelines.”

“At the urging of builders, the new code provides contractors two ways to meet the energy requirements: either by following the International Code Council (ICC) guidelines or by following an alternative set of guidelines designed by builders to achieve the same energy efficiency.”

“‘I think they came up with a code that works,’ said Vincent Squillace, executive vice president of the Ohio Home Builders Association, which opposed the initial proposal. ‘We came up with an equivalent code that’s more strict but is about $2,000 cheaper per home to implement than the original code.'”

I was so struck by Squillace’s quote that I called him. He confirmed what I thought: The builder-designed code, while achieving the desired energy efficiency goals, will make building a home less expensive than it currently is by about $800. That represents the difference between the $1,200 increase compared with current costs, which will occur if a builder chooses to follow the ICC guidelines, and the estimated $2,000 savings compared with the alternative guidelines will achieve.

Talk about burying the lede. It’s not too difficult to figure out which set of guidelines most builders and their customers will prefer — and they’ll do so without compromising energy efficiency.

Squillace told me that builders were able to obtain their savings by customizing home designs to Ohio’s actual climate conditions as opposed to the ICC’s designs, which are more generic from a climate response viewpoint. Imagine that.

There’s an important lesson here, which the Dispatch and AP failed to effectively convey. It is that industry officials working with the government and regulators can come up with better solutions than one-size-fits-all, top-down bureaucracies. Taking that lesson further, a cooperative approach between regulators and the regulated, preferably involving regulators who are knowledgeable and experienced in the industry in question, will accomplish more than a confrontational relationship involving government coercion, which is all too often administered by industry know-nothings who are trying to put notches in their belts.

A similar lesson deserves wider application in matters of employee safety, health and working conditions. To name just one example, coal and other mining fatalities during the Bush administration, which pushed a cooperative approach while former industry officials ran the Mine Safety and Health Administration, dropped from 72 in 2001 (42 in coal and 30 in all other mining) to an all-time low of 34 in 2009 (the Bush official in charge of MSHA left office in October of that year). With a clearly more adversarial Obama administration official in charge after that, fatalities jumped to 71 in 2010.

Getting back to the new Ohio residential building code, it appears to hold the prospect of making the state more competitive against neighboring states which aren’t as creative in developing solutions that satisfy almost everyone. That’s a really good thing.