December 13, 2008 at 1:00 am

Glenn Haege: The Handyman

Michigan has a new home energy code

Construction of new homes in Michigan have to meet a new state energy code that took effect in October. (Getty Images)

It has been a long time coming, but Michigan has finally brought its residential building energy codes up to national standards -- a move that will save millions of dollars in energy costs during the next decade and beyond.

The new Michigan Uniform Energy Code (MUEC) originally took form in 2002, when the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth established a committee to review and update the state's energy code for new home construction.

Thanks in part to Gov. Jennifer Granholm's efforts, the new 2003 Michigan Uniform Energy Code was to become effective in 2005, but the Michigan Association of Home Builders (MAHB) filed an injunction in Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing to stop the state from enforcing these new standards. The MAHB was concerned that the added cost to bring new construction up to these new energy codes would be too expensive for many home buyers and would have a negative impact on home building in Michigan.

The court recently ruled in favor of the State of Michigan and dismissed the lawsuit. As a result, the new MUEC took effect on Oct. 27.

"This new code really brings Michigan out of the dark ages and into code with the rest of the country," Irvin said. "It also brings us in line with the U.S. Department of Energy requirements for new residential construction."

The "dark ages" he was referring to was that in Michigan, homebuilders were allowed to use a much lower level of insulation in new homes than the rest of the nation. And while that made it cheaper to build a home, it added to the homeowner's energy costs.

The new code requires that home builders and remodelers must now use insulation that rated at R-49 in attics versus R-30; R-21 in walls rather than R-13; and R-10 for continuous insulation or R-11 for cavity insulation in basements instead of R-5.

When you listen to my radio show, you know I have always recommended using these higher levels of insulation for home improvement projects to save energy costs. By putting in R-49 in the attic will do even more than just save energy and help you stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. When there is insufficient insulation in the attic, warm air will infiltrate into the attic from below. As the warm air rises in the attaic, it cools and causes condensation, which often freezes on the underside of the roof.

The water created by attic condensation moistens and degrades some types of insulation and makes the wood in your attic wet, which makes your insulation less effective and can cause mold growth. In addition to the obvious energy-saving benefits, bringing your attic insulation up to an R-49 value will also keep you from these encountering other problems -- such as mold or wood rot in your attic.

Now that this MUEC is in effect, any residential building plans submitted to the Bureau of Construction Codes, or building permits submitted to local municipalities for approval on or after Oct. 27 must be approved based on the new code. Any projects approved before that date may proceed based on the old code.

If you are in the process of building a new home in a development, it is important to find out whether the homes were approved before or after the new MUEC went into effect and what level of insulation you can expect. Yet even if the project was approved prior to the code going into effect, you can still insist the home's insulation being brought up to code. Typically, the cost to bring insulation up to code in a new home could be as much as $3,000 or more, depending on the size of the home. However, you can easily save hundreds of dollars annually by upgrading to the new code. This is something everyone should consider as energy costs continue to increase.

In addition to the obvious overall energy savings for homeowners, this new code will also have a positive impact by slowing the amount of energy use in our state, which will help Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, and MichCon keep up with demand, especially during peak energy using periods.

Utilities also realize the importance of having their customers get the "big picture" when it comes to energy consumption. MichCon offers a $250 rebate when homeowners have a professional Home Energy Analysis conducted.

Details on this and other programs are available at my.dteenergy.com.

If you would like more information on the new MUEC, visit www.masterhandyman .com and click on the "Energy News" tab on my home page.