North Carolina officials are struggling to craft a compromise that will keep true to Governor Beverly Perdue's stated commitment to energy-efficient construction, but also satisfy a builder lobby that objects to the added construction cost for building high-performance homes. On December 14, the state's Building Code Council settled for a plan that would increase the stringency of the energy code by 15% - down from the original proposal which envisioned a 30% efficiency improvement. In exchange, however, the plan commits officials to make unspecified changes to other parts of the code in order to achieve construction cost savings of $3,000 per unit, to offset the presumed cost of the newly mandated energy-efficiency measures such as increased insulation, high-performance windows, and high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment. According to the Charlotte Observer, Governor Perdue has ordered the Building Code Council to select from a list of 20 proposed cost-cutting code changes compiled by Robert Privott, director of codes and construction for the North Carolina Home Builders Association (“ Safety may be lost for energy savings,” by David Bracken). Among the choices on the list were an easing of hard-wired smoke detector requirements in favor of battery-operated units, and the removal of some fire sprinkler mandates. The latest compromise vote is unlikely to end the controversy over energy codes in the state. The HBA argues that boosting energy standards during a construction slump will harm the state’s economy, while energy efficiency advocates say that operational savings for homeowners will add up to a net plus, reports the North Carolina News Network (“Energy Efficiency Standards To Go Up In N.C.,” by Josh Ellis and David Horn). The idea of trading off life-safety measures against energy-efficiency measures because of cost concerns has drawn criticism: In an editorial, the Charlotte Observer called the governor’s decision to endorse the walk-back of construction code provisions, evidently without knowing the details, “irresponsible” (“ New home building code a timid step up”). One member of the Code Council, Guilford County emergency services director Alan Perdue, told the Observer that the process of presenting the trade-offs to the body was “highly irregular. But at the same time, the Home Builders Association does not see the compromise as a win: They say they plan to oppose the 15% upgrade anyway, because the trade-off measures were only accepted in principle and have not been specified or finalized, according to the Charlotte Business Journal (“ N.C. council approves energy codes,” by John Downey). And the cobbled-together policy has a long way to go before it becomes fully official. Under the state code adoption process, the changes must first be published for public comment, then return to the Code Council for a final vote. After that, the package must be sent to the state’s Rules Review Commission, and then ultimately submitted to the General Assembly. Only after all those hurdles are passed would new rules take effect — in 2012.