The Maine House gave final approval Tuesday to the "Substandard Rural Housing Guarantee Act of 2011."
That's as good a name as any for LD 1416, which removes the word "Uniform" from what had been Maine's Uniform Building and Energy Code.
Adopted just last year, Maine now rejoins the ranks of 10 backward states where rural residents are regularly ripped off when buying a new home or building an addition on an old one.
In its wisdom, the Legislature chucked reputable professional advice and exempted about 40 percent of Maine's population from protections enjoyed by Mainers living in larger communities with building codes.
In April, a coalition of architects and builders representing 1,500 Maine businesses sent a letter to Gov. Paul LePage urging the governor not to change the new law.
The uniform code also was supported by the Maine Contractors and Builders Alliance, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Maine, the American Institute of Architects and the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals.
The Maine Municipal Association also testified that it would be better to have one statewide standard.
There were a host of reasons the new standard made sense, aside from the fact that consumers deserve confidence that the latest materials and best techniques are used in their new homes or construction projects.
After all, a new home is by far the largest purchase most people make in their lifetime.
But there are other important reasons for having a uniform building code.
First, it protects good contractors from being constantly underbid by bad ones.
Sufficient insulation and proper construction techniques may cost more in the beginning, but they pay for themselves over time.
In rural areas where no codes exist, contractors who know how a job should be done will be underbid by contractors using shortcuts or lower-quality materials.
The result for consumers is a second-rate home that may cost more to operate, develop problems over time and be worth less money when it comes time to resell.
Second, Maine's economy is, as we have said repeatedly in this column, more at risk of fluctuating petroleum prices than any state in the country.
That's because of our old housing stock, reliance on heating oil and lower incomes.
Part of our strategy must be to develop alternative energy sources. But more importantly, we must use every drop of oil as efficiently as possible.
The best way to do that is to start building high-efficiency homes. As the Natural Resources Council of Maine has pointed out, it is never as easy or as effective to weatherize and insulate an old home as it is to build a new one correctly.
Maine can do better.
Unfortunately, Tuesday's vote guarantees rural residents many more years of shoddy construction and oil dependency.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.