I’ve never been much of a code geek, but recently I’ve been studying the 2009 and 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) documents. When I was a contractor, energy code enforcement by building officials was pretty much nonexistent, so I didn’t pay much attention to the specifics, although I’m fairly certain we met or exceeded the minimum requirements in our projects.
My recent interest in the codes was sparked by Georgia’s amendments to the 2009 IECC that went into effect this year. The Department of Community Affairs put together a pretty thorough document that improves on the 2009 code and requires blower-door testing for new homes listed as an option in the IECC – one of the few in the country that does so. For reference, a house must test better than 7 ach50, and ducts must test to better than 8 cfm @ 25 Pa/100 s.f. total leakage or 12 @ 25 Pa/100 s.f. leakage outside the building envelope. Duct systems fully inside the building envelope don’t need to be tested and blower door testing is not required on renovation projects.
More cops on the street
There is a difference, however between having a good written code and enforcing it.
There are two pieces to making sure that buildings meet the energy code: visually inspecting for the mandatory measures and performance testing. Visual inspections are the responsibility of building inspectors, while the testing can be done by anyone with the proper training – HERS raters or Duct and Envelope Tightness (DET) technicians who are trained to perform blower door and duct leakage tests by groups around the state. The testing does not need to be performed by a third party – the HERS rater or DET technician can be an employee of the builder, the HVAC contractor, or an independent contractor.
Since I am a HERS rater, I do the required testing for some builders and provide the test results for my building certification clients. Most of the houses I test pass; however, two recent homes did not. One house showed some bad duct leakage, which the HVAC contractor was able to identify quickly and repair.
At the second house, the blower-door test showed almost 9 ach50. A quick inspection showed that an attic bonus room did not have the required attic-side sheathing on or blocking below the kneewalls. When they correct this, I will come back and retest. These are two cases where testing identified problems that could be fixed, but so far, there appears to be limited enforcement of the code by building officials.
I see nothing
In my testing role, I am not responsible for overall compliance with the energy code, but I do my best to point out obvious problems, such as the missing air sealing of the knneewall mentioned above. But as long as a house passes the tests, I have no authority to report any work that doesn’t comply with code requirements.
Unfortunately, it appears that many officials who are in a position to enforce the code are not doing so consistently. They require that the contractor post the state-required compliance certificate, but I have yet to see a project fail for missing the required air barriers that could be visually verified in a matter of minutes.
This lack of enforcement allows builders to complete and sell homes that clearly don’t meet the requirements of the energy code, depriving homeowners of energy efficiency and comfort that they deserve. If enforcement were better and more consistent, all builders would have to step up their game and we would end up with much better housing stock.
I recently served on a committee to help the city of Atlanta come up with a plan to properly enforce the energy code, with the intention of disseminating the results throughout the state when complete. The report is scheduled for release early next year. It will be interesting to see how successful this effort is at improving enforcement in the field.