Buying or selling a house? Energy matters.

Alice La Pierre
Tuesday September 24, 2002

Purchasing a home can be a complex process, especially for first-time homebuyers. There are many forms to read and fill out, including termite inspections, appraisals, and of course, financing details. One form that is often passed on to the buyer is an acceptance of the responsibility for compliance with the Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO).  

RECO was adopted to improve energy and water efficiency in Berkeley’s existing housing, and was designed to protect homeowners from having high energy bills. RECO mandates that the seller installs basic energy conservation measures prior to closing. However, buyers may sign papers to assume this responsibility. If they do so without first getting an idea of the work that will need to be completed, it can be an unanticipated expense. 

Most first-time buyers aren’t aware of RECO. Wise buyers will familiarize themselves with the ordinance, and have an idea what it will cost them to come into compliance before signing the transfer.  

So, what needs to be done to make a residence comply with RECO? The following areas of energy consumption need to be addressed: the building “envelope,” meaning its walls, ceiling/attic, and floor; water fixtures, such as toilets, showerheads and faucets; and the heating and hot water systems. In homes with fireplaces, the chimney and flue need to be inspected for dampers. 

In the building envelope, the ceiling/attic must be insulated to a minimum of R-30, which is bout 9 inches of blown-in cellulose, or 7 inches of fiberglass. (“R-Value” is a material’s resistance to, or reciprocal of its thermal conductance. The higher this number, the greater a material’s insulating value.) 

If the home has knob-and-tube wiring, a licensed electrician must do a safety inspection first before insulation is installed. If the existing insulation is not R-30 more insulation must be installed to bring the R-value up to at least R-30. 

Exterior doors must have permanent, screwed-in place weatherstripping attached to the doorframe, and a door sweep installed along the bottom of the door. If weather-stripping is already there, it must be in good condition, without gaps or tears. This will prevent drafts, making the space more comfortable in cold weather. 

Low-flow devices must be installed onto showerheads and faucet aerators. Showerheads must have a maximum flow of 3 gallons a minute, and kitchen and bath faucets must have a flow rate of 2.75 gallons or less. These devices are available free from the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD; www.ebmud.com/conserving_&_recycling/conservation_devices/default.htm ), or for a nominal fee from Berkeley Conservation & Energy (BC&E; www.Ecologycenter.org ) available at all Berkeley Farmers’ Markets. 

Toilets must be low-flow, at a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush; alternatively, complying flow-reduction devices can be installed. Any toilet replaced during a renovation must be replaced with a 1.6 gallons per flush model. 

Heating systems need R-3 insulation on exposed ductwork, or for hot water systems, R-3 insulation on hot water pipes. Hot water heaters must be wrapped with R-12 insulation, and the hot and cold water pipes at the tank must be insulated to a minimum of R-3 for the first two feet from the tank. For maximum heat retention, all exposed hot water pipes could be insulated at very little cost. 

How much should you spend on bringing the property into compliance? For single-family homes, a single-structure with two condos or live/work units or less, the maximum required expense is 0.75 percent of the sale price ($750 per $100,000). For one dwelling structure with three or more units, the rate is $0.50 per square foot. 

Note that any residential property that undergoes renovation with a total construction cost of $50,000 or more, must also comply with the requirements of the RECO ordinance. RECO inspection and documentation for renovation work is done through the normal building inspection process. 

To discover what your home may need to comply with RECO before buying or selling, check the full Compliance Guide available at Berkeley’s Energy Office at 2180 Milvia St., or call 981-5435. You may also visit the website at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ENERGY/RECO.html 

Perform the recommended measures for your home. Once the measures are installed, you should call for an audit, at 649-4854 weekdays, or 569-3080 weekday evenings. An authorized inspector will come to your home and conduct the audit. The current cost for the initial audit is $45 for a single-family unit, plus $5 for each additional unit.  

Once the building has passed the RECO inspection, you will receive a “FORM A, Certificate of Compliance,” which must be filed at the city’s Building and Safety Division at the Permit Service Center. Filing costs $15; once you have passed the audit and filed Form A, your home will be in compliance. Your energy bills will reflect this, saving you money and energy from now on. 

For more helpful tips on saving energy, visit the city’s Energy Office website at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ENERGY, or call 981-5435. 

Alice La Pierre is an energy analyst for the City of Berkeley. She promotes green building and energy conservation in Berkeley.