Monday, February 5, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 5, 2001

Energy code touted for homes

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Some contractors who failed to insulate new homes in the Ewa Plain to save a mere $1,000 have made some of the structures so uncomfortable that some families are forced outside to beat the heat, the state’s energy analyst said yesterday.

But those days may be drawing to a close, at least on Oahu, where there are high hopes for adoption of the Hawaii Model Energy Code for new single-family homes, Howard Wiig told a building and remodeling show audience at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

Hawaiian Electric Co. observers in some of the subdivisions said that they found families sitting in their driveways after dinner time, watching a television propped up on the hood of their car because their houses were so hot.

The $1,000 "savings" on those uninsulated homes has long since been offset by an inability to enjoy the homes after they have baked during a warm afternoon, or has been eaten up by costs of air conditioners and increased electric bills, Wiig said.

But adoption of the model energy code could save money for new-home buyers in the long run and help save the planet as well, the energy analyst said.

The model energy code is in effect in all counties for commercial construction, which includes high-rise residential buildings, Wiig said.

In the past, building contractors’ opposition has defeated efforts to make the code apply to low-rise residential structures, he said.

Now that the real costs of "saving" on insulation are apparent in many subdivisions, Wiig said, "it looks like Honolulu County will pass a model energy code in Honolulu in the near term."

The code would require builders to combine roof coloring and insulation or radiant barriers to reduce transmission of the sun’s heat to the attic space and home.

White roofing surfaces reflect so much heat that less insulation is required under them. Under the model energy code, for example, R-19 insulation is required under a dark roof, but R-5 is enough under a painted white roof.

Insulation at the R-19 level enables occupants of a house to feel nine degrees cooler, reduces afternoon indoor air temperature by four degrees, and eliminates the "toaster" effect by lowering the ceiling temperature 18 degrees, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Those reductions in heat could reduce or eliminate a $550 cost of buying and installing an air conditioner, and $200 to $400 a year to run the air conditioner, the state says.

Combinations of insulation, radiant barriers and roof surface coloring can pay for themselves in anywhere from one to three years, according to figures from the department’s Energy, Resources and Technology Division.

The code also increases requirements for cross-ventilation openings or fans in most rooms, and specifies efficient water heaters in new construction.

Reducing energy consumption is vital not only to comfort at home but to the entire planet, Wiig said, citing studies about global warming.

Wiig spoke at a seminar on concrete construction methods for single-family homes, and said he would endorse any construction method, such as concrete, which increased insulation for homes.

The seminar was one of many attractions at the show, sponsored by the Building Industry Association and presented by Bank of Hawaii. Building and remodeling activity-and interest in the show-appear to have increased because of improving economic conditions in Hawaii, the BIA’s Jude Dady said.

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