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Austin’s solar-ready woes

Thursday, February 2, 2017 by Mose Buchele, KUT

Imagine a house. Now imagine the roof. What do you see? Some shingles. Maybe a chimney? But really there’s so much more.

District 7 City Council Member Leslie Pool has sponsored a resolution to make more Austin homes solar-ready. Part of that means leaving roof space on new construction without the pipes and vents that prevent solar panels from being installed.

“It’s kind of like when you buy a house and they tell you the place for the refrigerator is already plumbed for the ice maker,” explains Pool.

Though that may seem simple enough, it’s not; the measure could add to the cost of building. Still, the Home Builders Association of Greater Austin agreed to support the measure if Council considered another resolution: changing Austin’s plumbing code.

Glen Coleman is a lobbyist working for the homebuilders on the issue. He’d like the code switched to something called the International Plumbing Code, or IPC. He said the IPC code makes creating that extra roof space easier. It also has other benefits.

“Adopting the IPC would neutralize the extra cost adopted by solar-ready,” said Coleman. “Smaller piping, more flexibility, the ability to tie multiple devices together and vent them simultaneously, and all of these things allow water conservation initiatives and solar initiatives to be more easily adopted in a house.”

But others disagree.

T.J. Dodd is business manager for the local plumbers and pipefitters union. He said, in fact, that “there’s nothing further from the truth.”

The pipefitters union prefers the current code, the uniform plumbing code. He said plumbers have already fought back two attempts at a code switch in the last year. And they fought back this one as well. They got Pool to pull the resolution.

“The plumbers here, they want the uniform plumbing code, they’ve been trained in the uniform plumbing code. It’s a superior code, and for some reason, somebody won’t let it go,” said Dodd.

So that’s the fight over plumbing codes. But, if you remember, this story is about solar panels. When the plumbing item got pulled, the homebuilders pulled their support for the solar-ready item. Mayor Steve Adler also asked for more time to look at the solar resolution.

“It did seem like everybody was moving along in alignment, and now they’re not. … That happens sometimes at the city,” said Pool, with a laugh.

She now expects the solar-ready item to be postponed, though she’s sure it will return for a vote in a couple of weeks.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Marufish made available through a Creative Commons license.

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