Illinois joins list of top 10 states for energy efficiency requirement in homes after adopting International Energy Conservation Code, which tightens requirements for insulation, mandates better seals for windows and doors

PEORIA, Illinois , April 28, 2014 () – In the past year, Illinois has gone from an also-ran among states in energy efficiency improvements for new homes to one of the nation's leaders.

Thanks to becoming the second state to adopt the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which tightens requirements for insulation and mandates better seals for windows and doors, in 2013 the Land of Lincoln moved into the top 10 nationally for the first time on the state energy efficiency scoreboard.

"It's a really good thing," said Kelly Blume-Albrecht of Blume Construction in East Peoria. "We really do need well-insulated homes in this market. It's cold here."

The legislation has hardly affected Blume, which has long been the area's top builder of energy efficient homes.

The company has built 21 Energy Star homes in the Peoria area, far and away the leader locally. Energy Star is a national program run by the Environmental Protection Agency that establishes rigid standards for energy efficiency among American consumers, businesses and organizations. It set the bar for the IECC.

"We still surpass the (Illinois) energy code," Blume-Albecht said. "For us, it was just paperwork."

But for many others affected by the new law, the changes haven't been quite as seamless.

"We remain opposed" to the new code, said Bill Ward, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Illinois (HBAI) in a recent edition of Midwest Energy News. "I think moving to the 2012 rules was a callous and uncaring decision that is going to hurt a lot of unemployed carpenters, electricians, plumbers and homebuilders."

However, other Peoria-area builders are catching up fast even though not all central Illinois communities haven't yet enforced the new law.

According to Ameren Illinois' energy efficiency advisor, Kim Ballard, nine local home builders have completed Energy Star houses in the last five years with several more pending completion.

"The transition to Energy Star V3 standard and the adoption of the IECC caused some builders to take a step back to improve their building process," said Ballard.

Certainly, the legislation has increased the pricetag on new homes for the prospective buyer. But that extra money up front can be recovered in time from much lower utility bills.

- Blume-Albrecht and her family of four had their 4,100-square foot Dunlap home built to Energy Star specifications seven years ago. The past three years their total monthly utility bill, including gas, electricity, fees and taxes, has averaged a mere $120.

"We don't have a geothermal or solar furnace, just a really efficient gas one," she said. The home's 2x6" walls are covered on the exterior with a foam board. Critical sealing was applied and raised rafters were constructed.

"If you do these things (in a larger home), you save from having to include two furnaces and two air conditioners," said Blume patriarch Bob Blume, Sr. "That's really a waste. Over the years, we've learned as we go with new techniques in buttoning up certain areas of the house that lose air.

"The walls are the most important part of the home for energy efficiency. If you cover them with foam board, you have not only covered a lot of weak spots, but it's all a continuous layer."

Ameren has also gotten involved with energy savings with its 5-year-old ActOnEnergy program, which allows builders to earn financial incentives for above code energy performance.

According to Ballard, 369 program-qualifying homes have seen an estimated annual dollar savings of $325. The energy saved so far is the equivalent to the planting of 45,000 trees or 270 cars taken off the road.

Homeowners of older houses can also benefit by replacing energy hog appliances and furnaces, installing new windows, lowering the thermostat setting and switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Often, there are rebates that apply to these purchases.

Besides saving valuable energy for the common good, consumers save valuable dollars -- the bottom line for most home improvement decisions.

"I don't even consider utilities as part of my household budget," Blume-Albrecht said. "That has been wonderful. I used to live in a drafty house in Chicago and my bill was three times what it is now. It's fun to get your bill in the mail now and not cringe."

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Dave Reynolds can be reached at 686-3210 or at dreynolds@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @davereynolds2.

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(c)2014 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.)

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