Residential electricity customers in Illinois paid an average of 11.52 cents per kilowatt hour in 2010, about 20 percent more than we paid here in Indiana. You’d think their electric bills must be more of a burden on the household budget, right?
Well, not so much. The average monthly residential bill in Illinois that year was $92.03, more than $9 cheaper than the Indiana household average of $101.79. Why the difference? The average Illinois household uses much less electricity—799 kilowatt hours a month—than the average Hoosier home at 1,065 kWh a month.
Are Illinoisans that much better at energy saving than we are—turning off lights whenever they leave a room, using the air conditioner only on the hottest days? Not likely. While several factors may contribute to the difference, the houses themselves are probably part of the reason.
Buildings account for about 39 percent of total energy consumption in this country. A little more than half of that amount is used by residential buildings. States have known for many years that they can reduce per capita energy consumption by requiring better buildings. This means not just more efficient lights, water heaters and furnaces, but also making a tighter envelope that reduces air flow between the inside and outside.
For a long time Indiana lagged behind most other states in requiring energy efficient buildings. We had codes that were many years out of date. Recently that changed because of a federal requirement. We adopted a better code for commercial buildings in 2010, and this year we got a new code for residential buildings. Unfortunately, we are in danger of falling behind again.
Model energy codes are revised every three years, and each new code is a substantial improvement over the previous one. Our residential (one- and two-family dwellings) energy code is based on the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, which is about 15 percent more efficient than the 2006 version.
Now the 2012 version is out, and it will result in another 15 percent improvement. In 2009 Illinois passed a law that requires adoption of the latest code, so next year houses built in that state will save even more energy.
We don’t have automatic updates in Indiana. It required a directive from Governor Mitch Daniels (and that federal mandate) to get the state building commission to adopt the recent codes. Without the mandate, which was a one-time requirement of the Recovery Act
, the commission is likely to return to its old ways of ignoring energy efficiency. It will probably take action from enlightened public officials in the Statehouse, either the governor’s office or the General Assembly, to keep us on the path to lower energy bills.
Meanwhile, if you are in the market for a brand-new house, you might want to check if the builder complied with the 2009 code. Consumers Union has a checklist of what to look for available at: ourgreenenergyfuture.org.