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Incentives coming for energy efficiency with fire resiliency

file photoConstruction crews build a home off of Willow Way in Talent.

An upcoming Energy Trust of Oregon program will give cash incentives for new homes built to exceed current state energy efficiency standards which also add increased fire resiliency.

The trust is already working with the city of Talent to offer incentives for owners who are rebuilding older homes destroyed by the Almeda fire.

“Because of the fires, we were really motivated to see what the cross section is between energy efficient measures and measures that also add fire resiliency to a building,” said Karen Chase, trust outreach manager for Southern Oregon. “I continue to hear people talk about fire resiliency ... but most people don’t have a definition of what would be fire resilient in construction.”

Research looked at existing literature to see where there was a connection between efficiently and resiliency. Environment and energy engineering firm TRC of Milwaukie did the research work for the trust, said Scott Leonard, program manager on the trust’s residential team.

The new program will roll out in 2022. Incentive amounts haven’t been set yet. Current trust incentives for upgrades to residential constructions range from $1,000 to $5,000 based on work undertaken, said Leonard.

TRC research looked at potential energy savings with resiliency benefits in areas including roofs, attics, windows, doors and insulation before determining the three areas with the best crossover relationships. Best energy benefits were found with exterior wall insulation, triple-paned windows and unvented attics all of which added fire protection.

“We will pay building owners to install these three measures and have a resiliency benefit,” said Leonard.

To qualify for the program the new homes will need to have an energy-efficiency rating that exceeds current Oregon residential standards by 10%.

Rigid installation can be applied to the outside of structures underneath exterior cladding to give benefits in both areas. The practice is common in colder climates and adds a non-flammable layer between the interior and outside of the home, said Chase.

“With a triple-pane window and its tempered glass, it has a better fire rating and will improve the overall wall and window fire resiliency benefit,” said Leonard.

Vented attics can suck in embers that may spark fires in homes. Unvented attics and cathedral ceilings eliminate the need for ventilation openings by moving insulation, moisture and air control boundaries to within the plane of the roof deck.

“The attics have substantial energy benefits,” said Leonard.

During the 2002 Biscuit fire, Chase recalled, firefighters coming to increase defensibility of her Illinois Valley home checked to ensure that mesh was installed over roof vents to prevent embers intruding.

“Roofs don’t have a ton of (energy) savings,” said Leonard. While tile and other materials do add fire resiliency, there were not included in the upcoming program.

Oregon also has a building code that requires increased fire resiliency standards in wildfire hazard areas, said Leonard. “We know there’s a fire residential benefit (for the three upgrades) because they overlap with that code.”

An optional “Reach” Oregon building code also produces higher energy efficiency as well as greater fire protection through the features and other practices. The code would produce a home with greater than 10% savings over current codes.

The city of Talent has worked with the trust on projects that offered increased energy efficiency in recent years.

“With the Energy Trust of Oregon we were able to create an extended incentive program for people to rebuild better and more efficiently,” said Michal Hoch, sustainability coordinator with Talent. City officials had passed a measure that allowed fire rebuilds to comply with the codes in place when the structures were built. Following those older requirements would have resulted in homes with lower energy efficiency.

Hoch works with builders who are classified as allies of the trust. Those builders are knowledgeable on the application processes for the awards and also know what materials are approved to help meet the higher standards.

Originally planned for the Talent only, the trust has expanded it throughout the state, said Hoch. Besides Jackson County, there were also significant losses of homes in Lane, Lincoln and Marion counties.

About 180 homes are in the rebuild program and they will be completed this year or next, with the majority in Jackson County, said Leonard. The same ten percent improvement is required as in the new program.

Email freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.