Industry groups battle 'unenforceable' Albuquerque Energy Conservation Code

Albuquerque, N.M. -- Industry groups, including the Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute and Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International sent a letter to Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez referencing federal laws and national standards that make much of the new Albuquerque Energy Conservation Code unenforceable.

Albuquerque, N.M. -- Industry groups, including the Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute and Heating, Airconditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International sent a letter to Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez referencing federal laws and national standards that make much of the new Albuquerque Energy Conservation Code unenforceable.

The new commercial and residential building codes signed into law by the mayor on September 25, 2007 scheduled to become effective on April 1, 2008, attempts to establish mandated minimum appliance efficiency standards to reduce energy consumption by buildings and homes by at least 30% compared to national standards but promise few benefits without enforcement capability.

Specifically mandated is ultra high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning equipment installed in new construction, major remodeling and replacement situations. The new Albuquerque codes require air conditioning equipment with a minimum of 15 SEER and furnaces with a 90% AFUE.

The code will also eventually ban electric resistance water heaters, mandate R-20 insulation under radiant floor slabs, require pipe insulation of R-4 for pipe 2-in. in diameter or less and R-6 for pipe larger than 2-in. Boilers, heat pumps, water heaters and ventilating fans would all have to be Energy Star rated.

Citing specific federal laws, HARDI and other industry organizations have informed the city of Albuquerque that it must file for a waiver of federal preemption from the U.S. Department of Energy prior to initiating their proposed codes which cannot be legally enforced until such a waiver is approved.

Enforceable or not, the proposed codes present several serious issues to local homeowners and businesses because they attempt to mandate high-end, high-efficiency HVAC equipment that is unjustifiable in many Albuquerque applications given its average heating and cooling demands and predominant building designs. Many current users of HVAC equipment would likely be unable or unwilling to pay premium prices for the mandated advanced equipment that they don’t need and that requires extensive and more complicated installations. Further, of those living or working in Albuquerque who could justify such an upgrade, most have already done so without regulation because local HVAC distributors and contractors already sell and install advanced systems when desired by their local customers. Albuquerque’s new codes would introduce no new HVAC equipment that is not already available but would only attempt to eliminate access to more affordable and appropriate HVAC systems for much of the city’s applications.

Without an enforcement mechanism, the city’s proposed codes open the doors to a “black market” of less expensive HVAC equipment with fewer guarantees of proper installations and no guarantees of any energy savings.

Look for more detailed information in the February print edition of CONTRACTOR magazine and on the new www.contractormag.com.