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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

Reestablishment of building energy code for Guam proposed

Sen. Sabina Perez has proposed the adoption of a building energy code for Guam to help reduce the cost of home ownership and limit the island's carbon footprint.

Bill 413-35 would establish the Guam Tropical Energy Code, an updated set of building standards promoting energy conservation and was specifically developed by local experts for use in Guam’s tropical climate.

Once enacted, it will set minimum standards for lighting, air conditioner unit ratings, and other construction methods and standards that impact energy use. Such standards will apply to new construction on Guam, as well as remodeling projects to existing structures that are significant enough to require a building permit.

Sen Sabina Perez

“By implementing the GTEC, which emphasizes smarter construction and the use of sound energy conservation technology, we can help the environment while also realizing significant savings in home ownership costs,” Perez said.

The bill is co-sponsored by Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes and Sen. Joe S. San Agustin.

For decades, Guam enforced a minimum building energy code. However, when PL 30-199 updated Guam’s building and fire codes in September 2010, the decision was made to not adopt the International Energy Efficiency Code, as it required construction measures unsuited for Guam, such as cold-weather insulation. Instead, PL 30-199 required that the newly created Guam Building Code Council review, amend and adopt the Model Tropical Energy Code for use on Guam.

The Model Tropical Energy Code is a federally funded energy conservation code based on widely used industry standards and provided for use by tropical jurisdictions – namely Hawaii, American Samoa, Saipan, Puerto Rico, and Guam – as a starting point from which to develop localized energy codes.

“The Guam Tropical Energy Code is the result of years of hard work by a number of local organizations and experts,” Perez said.

With the aid of the Guam Energy Office, the GBCC met regularly to fine-tune the Model Tropical Energy Code and collected extensive community input on the proposed energy code. In addition to regular working group meetings, the GBCC held numerous public hearings, trainings, and a GTEC conference, during which feedback was collected from contractors, real estate professionals, engineers, architects, and the general public. The original Model Tropical Energy Codes was thus updated to meet the unique needs of Guam, and the resulting document became the Guam Tropical Energy Code.

“The GTEC is a locally developed solution, tailor-made for our unique tropical environment,” Perez said. “Local experts have devoted hundreds of hours in developing these standards that, once adopted, will significantly help our community."

Perez said the proposed code was developed collaboratively by numerous local experts and members of the public, as well as the Guam Building Code Council, Guam Energy Office, Guam Energy Task Force, Guam Chamber of Commerce, Department of Public Works, Guam Fired Department, Guam Contractors Association, Guam Society of Professional Engineers, Guam and Micronesia Chapters of the American Institute of Architects, and Guam Association of Realtors.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, “energy codes increase energy efficiency in buildings, resulting in significant cost savings in both the private and public sectors of the U.S. economy. Efficient buildings reduce power demand and have less of an environmental impact.”

Energy codes are also widely recognized as one of the most effective means of reducing a community’s carbon footprint. It is estimated that 75 percent of buildings nationwide will be new or renovated within the next 25 years; “as a building’s operation and environmental impact is largely determined by upfront decisions, energy codes present a unique opportunity to assure savings through efficient building design, technologies, and construction practices,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Cash is Guam’s biggest export. We send hundreds of millions of dollars off-island every year to purchase diesel for our power plants. That’s money that should stay on-island, circulating in our economy” Perez said. “By requiring minimum energy standards in new construction, we can significantly reduce the export of cash from our struggling economy and prevent the proliferation of energy-inefficient homes that hurt renters and the local resale market."

On average, the increased cost of meeting minimum energy efficient standards is recouped within five years through reduced power bills. Additionally, because of its proven track-record of significantly lowering power bills, federally backed mortgage programs exclude the cost of energy efficient construction when calculating a borrower’s maximum loan amount.

“Energy codes are a win-win for realtors, contractors, and homeowners. The dollar value of buildings increases, but the increased costs are spread over a long-term mortgage, all without impacting the borrowing capacity of a home buyer,” Perez said.

By adopting the GTEC, realtors and contractors will be able to boost Guam’s economy by developing more valuable properties, but the cost to homeowners decreases through a significant reduction in power bills.

“A monthly mortgage and power bill are cumulatively lower, starting from day one, for construction that meets GTEC standards. Furthermore, after energy efficiency costs are fully recouped in five years, a homeowner continues to realize greater savings for the remaining 27 years of a traditional mortgage,” Perez said.

Many developers already incorporate GTEC standards into their construction, but they may be forced to compete with developers who cut corners and build energy inefficient homes. A required energy code both ensures that all developers are on a level playing field, and protects renters, realtors, and the resale market from having to contend with poorly constructed homes that cost more in the long run.

“Energy codes worked in Guam for decades. They momentarily lapsed when our building codes were last updated, but the intent was always to develop a localized version," Perez said. "Our local architects, engineers, contractors, realtors, and other stakeholders have worked hard to develop the GTEC, and it’s time we completed the mandate of PL 30-199 and re-established this critical code."

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