There’s no reason to build an inefficient home in Maine. We have enough already.

Almost one-third of the state’s housing stock predates World War II, according to Maine Housing. That’s 151,000 of about 550,000. By comparison, new construction totaled about 37,000 homes from 2000 to 2006, a rate far from an aggressive replacement schedule.

Maine’s construction boom years are also in the rearview mirror. From 1970 to 1990, some 170,000 new homes were built, the century’s peak. Although subdivisions in farmer’s fields may seem to have sprouted everywhere, Maine’s predominant housing stock is only growing older.

These older homes weren’t designed with energy efficiency in mind. Venerable, decades-old boilers and furnaces still burn away in many basements, old windows and doors allow summer breezes and wintry drafts, and poorly insulated walls and roofs release heat like sieves.

It’s a situation that isn’t getting any better. According to federal data, fewer than 3 percent of new Maine homes qualified for federal Energy Star tax credits for energy efficiency, by far the puniest rate in New England.

Vermont, by comparison, has 24 percent of new homes designated as energy efficient; New Hampshire about 17 percent. Our neighbors share our climate, but apparently we don’t share their enthusiasm for energy efficient homes.

Advocates say this is because Maine lacks a uniform home energy efficiency standard for new construction. LD 2179, which goes before lawmakers on Thursday, would institute such a standard, based on an existing model.

All other New England states, again, have such standards. It isn’t a leap to think Maine’s lowest-in-the-region home efficiency credits and lack of statewide standard are connected. Given other successes in other states, LD 2179 seems a bright idea.

But far from the only one. If the goal is statewide energy efficiency, more must be done to bring Maine’s graying housing stock into the 21st century. Mandating efficient new construction is but one a fractional improvement..

More incentives or programs should exist to encourage homeowners to replace those dinosaur boilers, for example, or invest in weatherization projects. This is most glaring in Maine’s rental market, which is predominantly comprised of older homes.

In Androscoggin County for example, almost half of rental properties were built prior to 1940, and this winter the cities have seen stories of landlords abandoning buildings because of heating costs, and tenants engaging in dangerous heating solutions.

And programs that provide funds for heating fuel – like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP – have been stretched to their state and federal limits.

There’s little sense in continually pouring fuel money into heating homes that waste fuel through inefficient systems, just like there’s little sense in building an energy inefficient home in the first place.

LD 2179 promises to address the latter. Somebody must address the former.


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