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Mayor to hold forum on 'Stretch Code'

Posted by Gail Waterhouse  March 23, 2010 10:00 AM

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The following message is from Mayor Robert J. Dolan:


Thursday, April 1, at 7:30 p.m.
Aldermanic Chamber, City Hall
Builders, Residents, Realtors, and Architects
Informational meeting to discuss implementation of Stretch Code that would require more energy-efficient construction projects

Cities and towns across Massachusetts are once again preparing for a historically difficult budget season. As traditional state funding sources are eliminated, projects in many communities are being delayed or scrapped altogether.

However, in Melrose, we have a unique opportunity to make the city available for up to a million dollars in state funding by becoming designated a “Green Community” by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

What exactly does this mean?  Although not a simple process, we are fortunate in Melrose to have an outstanding Energy Commission whose members are leaders in their respective fields to help guide the city through the process of developing long-term energy-saving plans.

In order to qualify, Melrose must commit to several energy conservation steps by mid-May 2010 to be available for funding this fiscal year. These steps include:
•    fuel-efficient vehicle purchases for certain municipal vehicles
•    approval of zoning districts and expedited permitting for certain renewable-energy projects providing “as of right” zoning
•    energy audits for municipal buildings
•    establishment of building regulations requiring certain projects to meet energy-
    efficiency rating levels

The step that may be of most interest to Melrose residents would be the adoption of the “stretch code.” The “stretch code” is an optional appendix to the Massachusetts building energy code that allows cities and towns to choose a more energy-efficient option. The “stretch code” option increases the energy-efficiency code requirements in any municipality that adopts it, for all new residential and many new commercial buildings, as well as for those residential additions and renovations.

On Thursday, April 1, the City of Melrose will be hosting a public forum at City Hall to discuss the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code currently being considered for adoption. Michael Berry, Project Manager for the Massachusetts New Homes with ENERGY STAR Program, will be present at the forum to provide an overview of the new Stretch Energy Code and answer questions from the public. It will be held in the Aldermanic Chamber at 7:30 p.m.

I encourage you to join Mr. Berry and representatives from Inspectional Services, the Office of Planning and Community Development, and my office at this interactive session.

The “stretch code” has already been, or is in the process of being adopted in many communities locally such as Winchester, Newton, Lexington, Wayland, and Medford. It is also important to stress that this will become the standard building code in Massachusetts in 2012.

New Construction vs. Renovations

Only 1.5 percent of the permits applied for with Inspectional Services over the last two years have been for new construction. The stretch code will offer, and require, a streamlined and cost-effective route to achieving approximately 20 percent better energy efficiency in new residential buildings than is currently required.

This will be done by moving to a performance-based code, where developers are required to design buildings so as to meet an energy target substantially better than code. Builders will have some flexibility in how they meet that target to allow for cost-effective and appropriately designed solutions. New residential construction will be required to us a performance based approach.

Residential renovations may follow an easier or less stringent process called the “prescriptive” route that requires a set of specific energy-efficiency improvements. Basically, the prescriptive route is a checklist ensuring that the area being renovated has been outfitted with energy-efficient windows, insulation, etc.

If a small renovation involves replacing several windows, then those new windows would have to be brought up to the “stretch” energy code. However, improving a kitchen or bathroom would not trigger required changes to the rest of the home such as attic insulation or a new heating system. Only the systems being modified have to be brought up to code.

Most Melrose homeowners are already doing this. For example, if you plan to replace windows in your home and shop at Home Depot (or another home improvement center), it will be difficult to find windows that are not energy efficient. Although I understand some people may not want to be required to make energy-efficient renovations, I believe many will be attracted to this requirement because, over time, they save money through rebates and reduced utility bills. In many cases, the initial investment is recouped in a relatively short period of time.

Cost Savings
By taking steps to save energy, we're obviously helping the environment.  But from a practical standpoint, an energy-efficient house will have a higher resale value. For new construction of a typical single-family home, higher performance standards could increase initial costs ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. The annual energy cost savings on heating and electricity, however, generally amount to 20-30 percent or more, making it a sound investment.

In addition to savings on your electric and gas bills, there are many rebate programs offered by National Grid to builders and homeowners making these improvements. In addition, the “stretch code” is designed to allow builders to get the maximum benefits of the existing ENERGY STAR Homes program including training, support and financial incentives.

For existing home renovations, there are tax credits for the homeowner as well as the same utility incentives for efficient equipment, appliances, and windows. There are also major rebates available for adding insulation to existing homes, through the MassSave program sponsored by the gas and electric utility companies.

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