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Green Code Needs Tweaking; Gets Basic Nod Of Approval From Builders

Originally Posted: July 09, 2008

Andrea Aurichio

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"This law needs some tweaking,” John Tortorella, of J. Tortorella Swimming Pools, strongly suggested. “Let’s put a committee together." Photos by Andrea Aurichio

Southampton - The official color of Southampton Town appears to be green judging by the favorable public response to a proposed law, still in the planning stages, that would require all new homes to be built to comply with a stringent building code designed to reduce energy consumption.

The proposed law would apply to all new single family homes, two family houses, townhouses, condominiums and all other multi-family residential units and would extend to houses described as "substantially reconstructed" by the Town's Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa.

Radical And Exciting
"This is radical and exciting, for me anyway," Benincasa said at the start of the lengthy and heavily attended public hearing held on Tuesday afternoon, July 8, during the Town Board's regular meeting.

"This is radical and exciting for me," Chief Building Inspector Michael
Benincasa said of the proposed code changes.

Town officials would also like to regulate the use of swimming pool heating devices to save energy by mandating the use of solar panels and heat pumps. However, by the end of the public hearing, Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, one of the proposal's sponsors, indicated the town would consider separating the portion of the law regulating home construction from the regulations for swimming pools.

While all of the speakers who took to the podium indicated their support of the cutting edge legislation mandating energy conservation based on a sliding scale directly related to home size that places the greatest cost and the greatest burden on the town's wealthiest residents, most also felt the law needed some revision. Many of the speakers from the building and construction related businesses in town volunteered their services offering tips and pointers to the town regarding energy use and conservation.

"I'm a green builder," James Zizzi, a well-known and often politically vocal builder, addressed the board. "I build these houses. I do this every day. I use this cutting edge technology that you are all talking about. I put the most expensive systems in the world into the houses that I put up and yet, I am not on your committee," Zizzi commented, referring to the town's Green Committee now called the Sustainability Committee.

The committee, formed by the town board, appointed a group of local citizens to study energy conservation and sustainability earlier this year. Ann LaWall, president of the Southampton Business Alliance, took to the podium to lobby for the inclusion of local builders Tony Panza and John Tortorella on the committee.

"That is a formal request," LaWall said politely. "We would like to propose two appointees."

The adoption of a stringent energy conservation minded building code is one of the first projects to come out of the newly formed committee.

Bob Weiboldt, of the Long Island Builder's Institute (LIBI), supported the law
but objected to the inclusion of "reconstructed" homes.

Nod Of Approval
Zizzi gave the proposed legislation his nod of approval as a builder, yet pointed to the technical difficulties involved in the execution of the concept. "I think it's great. I want this to happen," Zizzi said, after he noted the high degree of air tightness in houses designed to resist drafts and increase energy efficiency sometimes has a down side because the lack of fresh air increases the growth of bacteria.

Bob Weiboldt, of the Long Island Builder's Institute (LIBI), supported the law but objected to the inclusion of "reconstructed" homes, citing the difficulties with this portion of the law encountered in Islip Town and elsewhere. "They just dropped it," Weiboldt said, noting the cost to homeowners involved in major renovations was too prohibitive and would not necessarily result in an energy efficient home.

"It's not as easy as you think, even if you are dealing with a gut rebuild where the house has been taken down to its framework," Weiboldt said. "A new house is different. You are starting from scratch, with an older house it just costs too much to get to 84," Weiboldt said referring to the HERS factor (Home Energy Rating System) stipulated in the code as the minimal energy efficiency standard. Weiboldt also pointed to the still evolving stage of the systems and technologies involved. "A lot of this stuff is new. You don't even know if it is going to work or not."

Town officials maintain the new law, while increasing construction costs initially, will result in long term gains to homeowners realized through energy savings over time.

According to Throne-Holst, who is spearheading the legislation, the average homeowner involved in a new construction would be faced with increased building costs ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. Zizzi, on the other end of the spectrum, noted the energy saving factors could cost as much as $250,000 or more on a large scale, high-end home. "How much would that home be worth?" Throne-Holst asked. "About $3 million," Zizzi replied.

Builders also pointed to the incentives offered by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to homeowners who voluntarily include energy saving features in their homes, fearing the incentives would be withdrawn as the town moves towards mandates eliminating the voluntary aspects of energy conservation now implemented by choice rather than by code.

Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst estimates the average
homeowner involved in a new construction would be faced with
increased building costs ranging from $2,000 to $5,000.

Code Needs Tweaking
The use of solar panels and back-up heat pump systems to warm the water in swimming pools was not as well received as the modifications to the building code.

"Solar panels are ugly, and they are expensive," John Tortorella, president and owner of J. Tortorella Swimming Pools, said. In addition, the solar panels must be site situated to exploit the sun's power, a requisite that is not easily achieved at every house with a swimming pool.

Swimming pools, long regarded as energy gluttons, are a staple of many summer homes in Southampton where occupants frequently are in residence only on weekends and want to heat their pools as quickly as possible for short term use. Consequently, many homeowners heat their pools with propane gas systems. "Heat pumps are not designed to be on timers," Tortorella explained. "Our clients want instant gratification. High energy gas heaters work very well. This law needs some tweaking," Tortorella suggested. "Let's put a committee together. We can do stuff."

Long Overdue?
"This law is long overdue," Maggie Finnerty said. "The richest community, practically in the world, can afford this. I just got back from a trip to Turkey, and they are so far ahead of us. Every house has a solar panel. My neighbor conducted an experiment," Finnerty continued,"She covered her swimming pool every night and she saved 50 percent of the cost of heating the pool."

No one disagreed.

Supervisor Linda Kabot adjourned the hearing until July 22 at which time Councilwoman Throne-Holst indicated the Sustainability Committee and the Town Board would go back to the drawing board to make revisions to what is widely being regarded as a big step in the right direction. The town clerk's office acquired a collection of business cards and a list of names and phone numbers from builders, propane gas providers, and swimming pool contractors, all willing to join the committee or create yet another to act as ad hoc advisers to the town as they move towards sustainability.

"We are not at the end of an energy crisis, we are at the beginning," Benincasa noted, indicating he has been heating his own home with solar panels for years. "It's free," he said.

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Guest (Joel Bass - Rincon Construction) from Southampton, NY says::
I am presently building a USGBC-LEED home which may be able to be certified Platinum. This is the highest rating possible and it is extraordinarily difficult to get. I am preparing to be a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified builder and would like to participate in these discussions. I have been a builder on the East End for 17 years. Joel Bass President Rincon Construction, Inc
Jul 10, 2008 12:00 am


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