Energy code shocking to business owner
Fei “George” Yang, who opened Panda Kitchen in Hillsboro four years ago, discovered that opening a restaurant in town these days is much more expensive.
Energy efficiency requirements the city recently adopted are keeping Yang from leasing space he owns to an aspiring restaurant owner.
“This is really not good,” Yang said. “This is killing business.”
Yang owns the building at 101 S. Main St. and must upgrade his HVAC system and windows so that stray energy does not leak outside, among other upgrades. Tearing down the building and constructing a new one that complies with the code would be cheaper, Yang said.
Yang, who also owns Panda Kitchens in Hesston and Hutchinson and opened a fourth restaurant in Herington this month, has never encountered such strict energy codes as the ones Hillsboro has in place.
Yang approached Mayor Delores Dalke in her office last week and expressed his displeasure at the new code requirements, nearly causing Dalke to be late for the Feb. 17 city council meeting. Dalke opened the meeting with a recap of Yang’s situation and its implications.
“There’s probably not a building on Main St. that could meet the energy codes that we adopted,” Dalke said.
The council took no action last week to change the energy code, but proposed adjustments are expected in the near future.
Building Inspector Ben Steketee said the city’s energy code makes efficiency requirements for residential and commercial buildings. Existing buildings do not need upgrades, but any change in occupancy means the code must be must met. Yang wants to convert from a mercantile occupancy to a restaurant, Steketee said.
“There’s everything from soup to nuts,” said Steketee, who attended last week’s council meeting at Dalke’s request to speak about the code. “You have to know what the insulation is, what your ground insulation is, what the window insulation factors are, if there’s sunlight coming in those windows, is that going to affect the lighting inside and how do you then design your lighting to be the most efficient. It goes on and on.
“It’s very comprehensive code, and that means it’s a little off-putting and expensive. This isn’t the first we’ve heard of complaints against the energy code.”
The architect who designed the under-construction Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market was “surprised and dismayed” over the city’s energy codes, although the architect was “finally able to achieve compliance,” Steketee said.
Steketee said the only other cities in the state that he knows of with a similar energy code are Topeka and Greensburg.
“The energy code is not designed to save people money— it’s designed to save people energy,” Steketee said. “It’s just like when they started putting seatbelts in cars and the car manufacturers went ballistic. The buildings need to be tighter, more energy efficient. There is an awful lot of fuel that’s being leaked into the air through the buildings of the world. This is an effort to try and combat that.
“How much energy leaks out of the buildings, looking at that through the lens here in Hillsboro, that may or may not be a big issue.”
Council member Shelby Dirks questioned the city’s involvement in energy codes.
“Why do we the city need to be concerned if people have energy efficient homes or businesses?” Dirks said.
City Administrator Larry Paine said the city purchases and resells electricity at a rate that’s determined by demand.
“We’re interested in it from the point of view of developing an appropriate electric rate,” Paine said. “So if you’ve got a building and you’re just blowing hot air out the windows, you are contributing to an increased demand for electricity that wouldn’t be there if the building were tight — same thing for air conditioning.”
Council member Bob Watson said he did not even remember discussing the energy code in December 2012 when the council updated 12 different city codes.
“I wonder if we sort of jumped the gun a little bit when we adopted that,” Watson said. “I can sort of see if you’re building a new building, that’s one deal. If you’re trying to retrofit a hundred year old building on Main St., that’s a much different situation.”
Paine said he would discuss the issue further with Dalke and Steketee before returning with a modified energy code for the council to consider.
“Energy conservation is a good thing,” Paine said. “I know that the electricity has been put together right, the plumbing has been put together right, the HVAC system has been put together right. Those systems put together right are good for me as a consumer and everyone else in town.”
Last modified Feb. 25, 2015