Builders love to argue about their local building code. Some may think that the code’s energy provisions are too strict; others may think they’re too lax. But all of these arguments are moot if the building code isn’t enforced.
It turns out that in most U.S. jurisdictions, building code enforcement is a mess. There’s a long list of reasons why local authorities fail to enforce codes. For example, some states, including Vermont, have no enforcement mechanism at all for residential building codes. While code compliance is technically mandatory, compliance is voluntary. (Most Vermont towns don’t even have a building department or a code enforcement official.) In other states, building officials may be so overworked that adequate enforcement is impossible. And in the majority of U.S. jurisdictions, code officials are so poorly trained that they lack the basic skills needed to enforce the code’s energy provisions.
For example, almost all building codes require new homes to have a Manual J heating and cooling load calculation. Yet most Manual J reports submitted to local building authorities are, to put it charitably, totally bogus. Contractors routinely fudge the numbers on Manual J reports (meaning that most new homes have heating and cooling equipment that is significantly oversized)—yet most building officials never notice the bogus inputs. Contractors are confident that their Manual J reports won’t be read or understood, so they continue to fudge the numbers.
While oversized heating and cooling equipment won’t necessarily result in higher energy bills, insufficient insulation will. That’s why another example of building official incompetence—the acceptance of bogus “performance path” energy reports from a Pennsylvania company called Energy Modeling Agency—is more likely to hurt homeowners than the acceptance of bogus Manual J reports. The founder of Energy Modeling Agency—a…