Last week, a St. Louis County Building Commission hearing turned into a tug-of-war between the Sierra Club and other environmentalists and the St. Louis County Home Builders Association. The topic at hand was the latest revision to the county building code. Drafted by the commission’s building code review committee, the new code would, environmentalists say, actually lower the old energy efficiency standards, making new homes in the county about 6 percent less energy efficient than the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) parameters.
The St. Louis Energy Coalition, which opposed the draft, proposed their own 10 amendments to be added to the code. According to The Sierra Club Missouri Chapter Event Director, Michael Berg, these amendments would bring the proposal close to the national standards of the 2015 IECC. The Sierra Club says that without the amendments, homes would be 20 percent less efficient than modern standards.
This code’s mandatory levels are higher for windows and insulation, for example, which Berg says would “save homeowners money, create healthier homes, reduce pollution, and keep buyers in homes longer,” as well as make homes more marketable in the future. Residents and energy efficiency experts also spoke in opposition to the HBA’s code revision.
But the HBA maintains that the code is not below national standards, simply adjusted to suit local homes’ needs. Celeste Reuter, executive vice president of the HBA’s local chapter, says, “The national model code is sold all over the country by the International Code Council [and] is meant to be amended to fit local building practice, local needs, and local climate in your area.” Energy efficiency alternatives should be optional, not mandatory, HBA members argued.
Hickey thinks the HBA has too much sway. John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club’s Missouri chapter, points out that two of the five members of the commission have ties to the St. Louis County Home Builders Association, which supports the proposed changes. When committee chair Arthur Merdinian, an architect who’s in sales for Pella Windows & Doors, ran for mayor of Olivette in 2010, the HBA was his second largest donor. He spent four years as a member of the HBA’s national board and four years as a member of the regional HBA board, and he’s been a member of the HBA’s codes advisory committee since 1993. Another committee member, John DeGuire, works for McBride and Sons, one of the largest contributors to the HBA’s political action committee. DeGuire, like Merdinian, is a member of the HBA’s codes advisory committee.
“The fox,” Hickey says, “is in the henhouse.”
SLM reached out to the commission's chair, Kenneth Stricker, who is also affiliated with the local HBA. As of press time, he has not responded to inquiries about any potential conflicts of interest between the HBA and the Builders Association. Arthur Merdinian also has not responded to a request for comment.
The County Council will have the final say on this issue. They will consider the Building Commission’s acceptance of the proposal, as well as the opposition, when making a final decision. As of press time, the council has not determined when this decision will be made.