When new homes are built or additions are planned, residents need to file a zoning permit application with their town. Dorset’s zoning permit application requires the applicant to provide contact information for the person or firm certifying compliance with the Vermont Residential Building Energy Code, most often referred to simply as the Energy Code. All new construction as well as most renovations must comply with the code, but the state does not inspect construction of single family residences and therefore little enforcement is built into the code. In order to improve compliance, Dorset will not issue a certificate of occupancy (which allows the homeowners to move in) without a certificate stating the building conforms to the energy code. Typically the builder or general contractor certifies a project. Homeowners can self-certify a project, but only if they act as the general contractor and are on site directing construction on a regular basis.
Home energy use accounts for a large sector of energy use. In 2013, the Department of Energy (DOE) determined that “energy cost savings for Vermont resulting from the state updating its commercial and residential building energy codes in accordance with federal law are significant, estimated to be on the order of nearly $15 million annually by 2030”. The residential energy code includes guidelines for every energy related aspect of the building. It has standards for everything from air sealing and insulation to programmable thermostats and energy efficient lighting. Generally the standards require that air leakage from windows and doors be minimized and transitions from heated areas to unheated areas be insulated and air-sealed. However, the code’s effectiveness is to some degree dependent on the quality of the work.
Even though the code was passed in 1997, many builders are still not aware of it or may have heard of it but are not familiar with the details. Tyler Yandow, the Zoning Administrator in Dorset, noted that educating homeowners and builders regarding code compliance has been a priority of the town.
A challenging part of achieving compliance is that if projects are not certified, this may not come to light unless the house is sold or refinanced and an attorney or banker requests a copy of the certificate. At that point, it is much harder to make changes to bring the structure up to code. It is more efficient to simply build it right the first time. Dorset has required compliance with RBES since 2013. The Town is hopeful that more people are aware of the energy code and are ready to comply, after all it will save them money and benefit the town’s economy in the long run. Yandow credits the hard work of the Dorset Energy Committee for their energy and enthusiasm in making the town a statewide leader in residential energy compliance.