Beginning next month, 34 Maine towns will enforce a new building code.
The code is called MUBEC, or Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code, and it sets higher standards for insulation, radon gas mitigation and much more, for newly built homes and commercial buildings. The code also results in higher costs for the builders who must comply with the code, and the towns that enforce it. Some builders and municipal officials consider the code too restrictive. Others think the code doesn’t go far enough.
The code has been a long time in the making. It was originally passed by the state Legislature in 2008, then it was reworked in 2011. Towns with populations greater than 4,000 are required to adopt it — 89 municipalities in all. Fifty-five of those communities have already adopted the code. The 34 holdouts have until July 1.
The new uniform code is a combination of six existing ones, including the International Residential Code, which covers one- and two-family homes; the International Building Code, which covers everything else; and the International Energy Conservation Code.
Gary Fuller, code officer for Augusta, Belgrade and Sidney, has already been enforcing the new rules. In Sidney, the code is effective in July.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Fuller said. “There are a few things that cost a little more in the construction of a house, because you’ve got to have more insulation in the attic, more insulation in the walls, you have to insulate your foundation.”
Fuller estimates the increased insulation will cost an average of $5,000 per project.
There’s also the cost of building inspections, he said. To enforce the code, the law allows municipalities to choose whether town employees or certified third-party inspectors will perform site inspections. Fuller said he isn’t sure what the Sidney board of selectmen will decide, but he estimates that each project will require more than five inspections. Third-party inspectors charge about $300 for each inspection, he said.
Pete McPherson, a certified third-party inspector in Hallowell, said it’s hard to estimate how many inspections a project needs. There are seven different aspects of each project that need to be inspected, but some of those can be done during the same trip.
“But, if the contractor isn’t ready for you, or they’re doing the house in phases, it’s going to cost more,” he said.
He estimates each project will cost a minimum of $1,000 in inspection fees, but could go much higher.
In Farmington third-party inspectors will be called in to do the inspections because the town doesn’t have the resources to perform its own inspections, Code Officer Stave Kaiser said. In Skowhegan, the town will inspect single- and two-family homes, but third-party inspectors will do the rest, Code Officer Randall Gray said.
Skowhegan Selectman Newell Graf said he is wary of the new rules.
“Personally, I think it’s pretty restrictive,” Graf said. “I think it’s going to result in a lot of extra work for our code officers, and that cost has to be borne somewhere. In the economy we have, are you going to pass that on to the consumer? And if you do, will it stifle building? I have concerns over it.”
Rene Desrosiers, owner of Desrosier’s Builders in Winslow, is in favor of the code, but said the additional costs of materials are sometimes a tough sell on clients.
“These things cost and cost, but they aren’t visible in the final product,” Desrosiers said of insulation. “People would rather see nice stuff with the money they spend.”
Assistant State Fire Marshal Richard McCarthy is tasked with overseeing the code and its adoption throughout Maine. He said the additional cost for insulation is worthwhile. He also said the code protects reputable builders and homeowners.
“The issue is standardization,” McCarthy said. “It’s making the builder’s job easier, because it’s just one code. It’s not 50 different codes throughout the state of Maine.”
McPherson, who worked in construction for 35 years, agreed.
“One of the most frustrating things was every city or town had a different set of rules,” he said. “MUBEC makes it a lot easier on owners and architects, because you don’t have to pay an architect to do a code study for the town.”
He added that the additional costs for insulation will ultimately save money.
“It will increase the cost of the house by about 3 percent … but you’re going to recognize those savings in the first two or three years, just in efficiency,” he said.
Ben McCanna — 861-9239