Tweak Energy Code


In late July the town of Southampton adopted some of the strictest energy standards in both New York State and the country concerning construction of new buildings and swimming pools. However the adoption of the code carried a caveat that certain aspects still needed some “tweaking.”

At the heart of the law is the requirement that any new or substantially reconstructed dwelling reach certain Home Energy Rating Scores (HERS) based on the size of the buildings — the larger the building the higher the rating. The law also requires all new swimming pools to be heated primarily by solar electricity.

After meetings with various representatives from the business community, the town’s green committee has agreed to a number of changes in the law and a resolution sponsored by councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst established a public hearing on September 9 to consider them. Among the changes are a definition of a solar heating system, the ability for owners of swimming pools on small lots to be granted exceptions from the solar heating requirement, giving the town’s chief building inspector Michael Benincasa sole authority to decide who gets such an exception and allowing a waiver from the law for historic structures.

Another public hearing will also be held on the same date to discuss whether or not to extend the effective date of the code from October 1 to January 1, 2009. Councilwoman Nancy Graboski sponsored that resolution and when the code was originally adopted spoke out against the October 1 effective date.

We’re supporting two slightly different resolutions,” said Throne-Holst. “They’re similar in gist and the only difference is the implementation dates. [Graboski] would like to see the implementation date moved from October 1 to January 1 for all of the requirements.”

Throne-Holst’s resolution makes one exception in terms of the effective date and that has to do with builders obtaining the HERS rating. Due to the small number of HERS raters on the East End, Throne-Holst’s resolution allows a builder to hold off on obtaining the rating until the first of the year.

“That was something we did in response to both the architects and building community who were asking for a little bit of respite,” she said.

As for Graboski’s resolution, Throne-Holst said moving the implementation date to January 1 for all aspects of the law would be a bad idea on a number of levels. She said Benincasa has already told her he’s seeing a spike in applicants attempting to sneak in before the code goes into effect.

“Our concern, which has been the history here when new codes [are adopted], is that [builders and developers] scramble to get in under the radar,” said Throne-Holst.

She said if the date is extended to January 1, there’s a distinct possibility a number of large homes will be able to sneak in and forego the energy saving requirements. And it’s the large homes, according to Throne-Holst, that the town is most worried about.

She also mentioned the possibility that if the date is extended, the law would be susceptible to people seeking to “water it down” so much so it could lose its original intent.

“If this does extend to January 1, we keep ourselves open to all attempts to water this down,” she said. “In the end we could see a very good piece of legislation, that the board voted four to one to support, get watered down to where it no longer [serves its intended purpose].”

She said she understood there would always be resistance to change, but that “the intent of the law is very good” and benefits the entire community. She pointed out that the law comes on the heels of the town’s yearlong battle with the Long Island Power Authority over their new transmission line, in addition to the rising energy prices and global warming. She also pointed out that Southampton, while their law is by far the strictest, is not the first town to institute green building standards. There are eight other towns on Long Island with similar laws.

Photo: Supervisor Linda Kabot and councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst