PEPPERELL -- The decision on whether to adopt more stringent building code regulations to pave the way for the town's "green communities" application may go before voters this spring.
Adopting the state's "stretch code" is one of five requirements to become a green community, which provides the town with grant opportunities to encourage energy efficiency.
The next application deadline to become a green community is October. To meet this deadline, the town would have to adopt the stretch energy code at its annual Town Meeting May 5. Selectmen would have to put an article on the warrant to allow the vote.
The stretch code requires new construction as well as additions and renovations to be 15 to 20 percent more energy efficient than the state's base energy code.
Mike Berry, of the Department of Energy Resources, led a presentation for local contractors Monday night to explain the code.
Under the stretch code, he said, new homes would be required to meet a certain score on a home efficiency index. Additions or renovations to existing homes would need to meet specific construction requirements rather than an overall home efficiency score.
"There is the potential to become net positive in your investment really quick, but there's also the fact that you're in a better performing home over the lifetime of that house," Berry said.
According to Berry, when the base energy code is updated on July 1, many of the energy saving measures which are now part of the stretch code will become required for all.
"For the builders who haven't done it, this is going to be a learning curve, but it's coming," Berry said.
The stretch code, too, will eventually be updated to reflect more stringent regulations. Towns that have voted to adopt the stretch code will automatically adopt any new, stricter versions, but could choose to vote the stretch code out at a future town meeting, Berry said. Towns that vote the stretch code out would lose their status as a green community, but would not be required to return any grant money that had already been awarded.
Selectmen Michael Green said he was concerned that adopting the stretch code would raise costs too much for local builders.
"I fear it's too much too soon. With the high school, the override, and now we're going to be telling them that we're choosing to make it more expensive to add onto their house," Green said at a Board of Selectmen meeting on March 24.
At the meeting Monday night, Green questioned specifics such as the up-front cost of meeting the stretch code and the time it takes to get a return on that investment.
For most residential homes, it takes about 10 years to see a return on investment, Green said.
"If we can build homes to the stretch code and sell them, that's great, but right now I'm not for requiring anyone to build to the stretch code," Green said.
Building inspector Harry Cullinan said that local contractors are capable of meeting the current stretch code without great cost increases.
A 50-home subdivision in which all the homes meet the stretch code requirement is nearly completed at Emerson Village, Cullinan said.
Selectmen Chairman Stephen Themelis, who also owns a construction company, said that while he is still learning the details of the stretch code, he is for the green communities application as a whole.
"With the stretch code, always raising that bar is a tough thing to get your hands around," he said. "But in the end, the goal is to make it so new residential construction is having a better rate of return in terms of their energy savings, because utility costs are always rising. It's a good thing. It's just about how do we get there and how do we educate ourselves on this," Themelis said.
To meet the requirements to become a green community, Pepperell would have to meet five criteria: Adopting the stretch code, formulating a plan for 20 percent energy reduction in municipal buildings over five years, purchasing only fuel-efficient vehicles, adopting an expedited permitting process for renewable energy facilities and providing zoning for construction of renewable energy facilities.
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