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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL)

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Rep. Keeler and Sen. Eken work with state agencies to make homes in Moorhead more affordable

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – A task force established by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) and the Construction Codes Advisory Council has found a way to make homes in Moorhead and other Minnesota cities more affordable by reducing frost depth requirements. Current frost depth requirements make some houses in Minnesota more expensive than homes in neighboring states, driving away potential residents. Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL – Moorhead) and Sen. Kent Eken (DFL – Audubon) worked closely with the DLI to increase awareness of this issue and find a solution.  

“When legislators work with Minnesotans and our state agencies, we can bring good to our communities,” said Rep. Keeler. “This is a prime example. Community members brought an issue to my attention, and I worked extensively with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to find a solution. Thanks to our hard work and collaboration, Moorhead will have competitively affordable houses with our neighbor across the river and more people will be able to make our community their home.” 

“This badly needed change to the State Building Code is an important step forward in leveling the playing field across the border,” said Sen. Eken. “It is essential that we do everything we can to attract families and businesses to our region, and working to ease burdensome regulations like this one will go a long way in keeping our community competitive. I am thrilled that we were able to make this change happen, and I will continue working to ensure that our region is treated fairly at the legislature.”   

“I applaud Rep. Keeler and Sen. Eken for their persistent advocacy on behalf of their constituents. Were it not for their efforts, we wouldn’t have convened a Technical Advisory Group to study this issue and find a creative solution,” said DLI Commissioner Roslyn Robertson. “It is clear technical experts are in the best position to consider and evaluate proposed changes to the building code, and the Construction Codes Advisory Council is the exact venue to review legislation such as this. I urge other legislators to rely on the council for any legislation related to building construction.”  

Under the State Building Code, every new home in Moorhead must extend at least 5 feet below grade to protect the building from the damaging effects of frost. Houses in the neighboring city of Fargo, North Dakota are only required to have 4.5 feet of frost depth protection. According to local officials and home builders, the additional six inches of frost depth doesn’t make houses safer or more energy efficient, but it does make homes in Minnesota up to $3,000 more expensive. Some potential residents choose to buy a home in North Dakota instead of Minnesota due to these additional costs.  

Rep. Keeler and Sen. Eken worked hard to address this issue after community members brought it to their attention, introducing legislation to reduce frost footing requirements in Moorhead and neighboring cities. In response to this legislation and Rep. Keeler and Sen. Eken’s concerns about housing affordability, the DLI and the Construction Codes Advisory Council established a Frost Depth Study Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to study the issue. This task force identified a solution that can be implemented immediately. 

According to the Frost Depth Study TAG, an American Society of Civil Engineers (ACSE) standard that serves as an alternative foundation design in many state and local building codes permits houses to have frost depths of 50 inches if they meet certain typical prescriptive requirements, including foundation insulation that’s rated R-5.7 or higher. Since Minnesota’s energy codes require homes to have R-10 or R-15 insulation, our state can safely reduce frost depth requirements in much of the northern half of Greater Minnesota. When builders implement this change, new homes in our region will become more affordable and possibly cheaper than homes in North Dakota, enabling more people to settle in Minnesota.  

The TAG will present these findings to the Construction Codes Advisory Council at their September 23 meeting, and home builders can expect to receive more information in the coming months.