July 22, 2008

Southampton to Vote on Energy Standards for New Homes

By Ellen Yan, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jul. 22--Southampton is poised to vote tonight on what would be Long Island's most stringent energy standards for new homes -- and the bigger the dig, the tougher the standard.

The energy standards are the first big initiative from Sustainable Southampton, a committee created by the town earlier this year. Its mission is to find ways to cut down energy consumption and keep the town as environmentally pristine as possible, especially as the Hamptons attract more residents.

The initiative would break down new and "substantially reconstructed" homes into four size categories, each required to meet a different score on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) scale, which measures energy efficiency. For the average Hamptonite building new quarters of 3,500 square feet or less, the town is calling for an 84 HERS score, the minimum to be an Energy Star home. The top tier is reserved for those who want 6,500-plus square feet; they would have to score a 95 out of 100, which might require alternative energy, such as solar or wind power.

"It's tough but it's doable," said town board member Anna Throne-Holst of Sag Harbor. "The bigger houses are the bigger energy consumers and polluters, and we live in a community where we have houses as big as 60,000 square feet."

A minimum score of 84 can be met by having one Energy Star appliance, Energy Star lighting and energy saving motors for the heating and air conditioning system, according to the Long Island Power Authority. The second category covers homes 3,501 to 4,500 square feet, which would have to meet an 87 HERS score, while the third category covers homes up to 6,500 square feet and calls for a score of 90. Reaching the proposed rating for the biggest homes would likely involve a combination of components, from more insulation to south-facing windows to take advantage of the sun in winter.

Licensed HERS raters, who work with the builder throughout the planning and construction process, would have to inspect the homes before certificates of occupancy could be issued.

The move comes after LIPA made it clear the town needs more power lines to meet demand, and the town spent more than $8 million hiding them underground, to preserve the town's look and character.

Other Long Island towns recently changed their laws to require all new homes to meet minimum Energy Star standards.

But Southampton's proposal would also tackle a symbol of the lifestyle of the rich and famous: heated swimming pools.

New ones would have to use solar energy to warm up waters; solar panels would also be the only option for any pool heating equipment to be replaced in existing swimming pools.

"There's no insulating value in concrete," said Mike Benincasa, the town's chief building inspector, who helped craft the bill. "It's a futile effort to try to keep the pool heated. You can do it with heaters, except that you're using the fuel that we should be using to heat our homes or power our cars to heat a hole in the ground filled with water. Philosophically, I've got a problem with that."

The Long Island Builders Institute supports the measures. "We've been talking about energy efficiency for quite a while," said the group's executive vice president, Michael Watt. "It's time to put up or shut up."


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