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Health, Science, Environment

Controversial plan to update building codes heads to St. Louis County officials for approval

The St. Louis County Building Commission members (Jeff Aboussie, Barry Glantz and John Finder, right) listen to Sierra Club supporters on August 2015. The model house is covered with the names of 529 area residents who want stricter energy efficiency stan
Veronique LaCapra
The St. Louis County Building Commission (Jeff Aboussie, Barry Glantz and John Finder, right) listened to environmentalists at a meeting last year. The model house is covered with 529 names of area residents who want stricter energy efficiency standards.

A set of construction standards that lower environmental requirements for new residential buildings could soon be approved by St. Louis County officials. 

The county's Building Code Review Committee has approved a draft ordinance on the building codes. The proposed ordinance, which will be sent to the county's Building Commission, dismisses energy efficiency measures from the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) that would require new homes to reduce air infiltration, install more energy efficient lights and add more increased wall and ceiling insulation.

The Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri recommended eliminating those requirements.  It estimated that the 2015 code's energy efficiency standards would cost county homebuyers between $32,420 and $42,345 more than the measures required by the county's existing code, adopted six years ago.

The Sierra Club's Missouri Chapter drew attention to the proposed standards last year and argued that they were made at the expense of homeowners. According to an analysis performed by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the 2015 IECC would allow owners of new homes  in St. Louis County to save an average of $436 a year on their utility bills, compared to paying an extra $152 a year if county officials approved the amended, less energy efficient standards. 

"$436 is someone's rent," said Gretchen Weddell Barwick, a Sierra Club organizer. "That's one month of day care." 

Barwick also said that the energy efficiency measures outlined in the 2015 IECC could protect residents' health. 

"It combats a lot of problems we see with indoor air quality which is a huge problem for people living with asthma in St. Louis," she said. 

It's uncertain when county officials will approve the new building codes, but with the committee's recommendation, it could happen within a few months. 

Follow Eli Chen on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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