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Boise has set tougher standards for new homes than Idaho. This bill would stop that.

A construction crew works on a house in the Painted Ridge subdivision in Columbia Bench southeast of Boise. A bill sought by builders that has passed the Idaho House would require uniform home-building codes across Idaho.
A construction crew works on a house in the Painted Ridge subdivision in Columbia Bench southeast of Boise. A bill sought by builders that has passed the Idaho House would require uniform home-building codes across Idaho. sberg@IdahoStatesman.com

Boise is one of a handful of Idaho cities that have adopted the newest international standards for energy conservation in new homes. But a bill advancing in the Legislature would prohibit Boise and other local jurisdictions from getting ahead of statewide standards in the future.

The city’s new building code requires more energy-efficient windows, more LED or fluorescent lights, and better insulation in homes’ attics, walls or windows than the state requires. Boise leaders believe the benefit of long-term energy savings outweigh increased costs of building homes in a tight housing market.

“You really only have one shot when you’re building a house to make that house tight, and that’s before you cover all those cracks and holes with Sheetrock,” said Jason Blais, Boise’s building official. “You’ve got to really spend that extra time sealing that house up. It really does make a difference on energy efficiency.”

The state has not yet adopted the same standards, though it likely will eventually. Boise opposes a bill working its way through the Legislature that eventually would make building standards the same for all cities and counties in Idaho.

Backers of House Bill 547, which passed the House of Representatives on March 2, say allowing cities like Boise to adopt their own codes forces builders to spend extra time and money learning the differences between various standards — costs that are passed on to buyers.

“Literally in some cases, on one side of the street you have to build to one code level, and the other side of the street you have to build to another,” said Ken Burgess, a lobbyist for the Idaho Building Contractors Associations, a statewide group of single-family home builders.

Builders aren’t necessarily opposed to more stringent standards, Burgess said — they just want them to be consistent from place to place.

After it passed the House, the bill was referred to the Senate’s Commerce and Human Resources committee, which has not scheduled a hearing on it.

Burgess said the bill would not roll back new codes in Boise and other cities, such as Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Rathdrum. That’s because the bill grandfathers in code updates that already exceed state code, though it would not allow new ones.

Boise’s code also permits, for the first time, tiny houses that measure less than 400 square feet. That provision would survive too.

Blais also said requiring uniform standards statewide would keep cities from aligning their design criteria with their geography and climate. But that’s not true, Ron Whitney, deputy administrator of the Idaho Division of Building Safety, said in a Feb. 28 email to State Rep. Gayan DeMordaunt, R-Eagle. Whitney said local building officials would retain authority to adjust standards for expected snow, wind, seismic activity and flooding.

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