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Green Building News

New Idaho Law Discourages Energy Code Updates

The measure prohibits local jurisdictions from requiring tougher energy codes than those adopted statewide

In Idaho, a builders' trade group sought a new state law that would prevent towns and cities from adopting energy codes that are more stringent than the state code.
Image Credit: Rishichhibber via Wikimedia

What happens when a community decides that the statewide building code doesn’t go far enough and adopts a newer version of a model code with tougher rules on energy conservation?

In Idaho, one of those communities was Boise, the state capital and Idaho’s largest city.

A new Idaho law will prohibit towns and cities from preempting the state’s energy code with more stringent requirements in the future.

The backdrop is a decision by officials in Boise and several other communities to adopt the 2015 version of the International Residential Code while the state was using an earlier and less restrictive version. That decision, said The Idaho Statesman, prompted a bill that would prevent Boise or any other community from jumping ahead of statewide standards in the future.

Leading the charge against Boise’s tougher rules was the Idaho Building Contractors Association, whose lobbyist said that builders needed consistent codes.

“Literally in some cases, on one side of the street you have to build to one code level, and the other side of the street you have to build to another,” Ken Burgess told the newspaper.

Backers of the legislation argued that builders would be forced to spend extra time learning the differences between codes, which would result in higher costs to home buyers. Boise officials, on the other hand, said the time to ensure long-term energy efficiency — efficiency that ultimately saves homeowners money — was when a house is being built.

“You really only have one shot when you’re building a house to make that house tight, and that’s before you cover all those cracks and holes with Sheetrock,” Jason Blais, Boise’s building official, told The Statesman. “You’ve got to really spend that extra time sealing that house up. It really does make a difference on energy efficiency.”

The new law, signed by the governor at the end of March, is not retroactive. That leaves Boise and several other communities making similar moves to the 2015 version of the IRC unaffected for now. But unless the law is changed, they will have their hands tied in the future and not be unable to adopt tougher rules on energy efficiency unless the state goes there first.

A compromise emerges

The Idaho Conservation League opposed the bill. The organization’s government relations director, Jonathan Oppenheimer, said the bill sat in the legislature for much of the session until it was eventually amended to allow local jurisdictions to upgrade some provisions of the state building code — but not energy efficiency standards.

The amended bill apparently satisfied initial concerns that the legislation was too sweeping in scope, but the final version could have unpleasant consequences in the future when local jurisdictions want to sign on to updated versions of the IRC or the International Energy Conservation Code.

“They effectively threw the energy efficient standards under the bus,” Oppenheimer said by telephone.

The debate focused on how much the updated energy codes would add to the cost of a new house. In a column published by The Statesman, William Day said that the builders group exaggerated the additional costs of adopting the 2015 IECC to between $5,000 and $7,000, when in reality the cost increase would be no more than $2,500 and possibly much less.

Fay, head of an organization called the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, said that legislators were being steered by powerful special interests.

“People played loose and fast with the numbers,” Oppenheimer said. “They were arguing it doesn’t make sense for consumers when in reality it was adding a couple of thousand dollars, and they recoup that over a few short years in terms of energy savings. By not doing everything we can to increase the efficiency of our buildings, we’re paying for it in terms of dirtier water and dirtier air as a result of the pollution associated with energy production, and then also having an impact on consumers’ pocketbooks.”

A call to the Idaho Building Contractors Association was not returned.

9 Comments

  1. John Clark | | #1

    Sad day for the citizens of Idaho.
    So much for local self-governance.

  2. Peter L | | #2

    Not surprising
    Typical building contractors who want to build the cheapest energy efficient home they can. They don't care about the lifelong energy bills the home will have for the next 100 years. All they care about is making the most amount of money. What's inside the walls doesn't sell most homes, it's the granite counter tops, large gourmet kitchens with the 6 burner gas grill that has a range hood that will suck out the entire air from the home in 15 minutes. Sad but true...

  3. Robert Taska | | #3

    On the bright side
    I have been told many times by building experts (scientists) that the existing building code, regardless of geographic area, represents the cheapest house a builder can legally build. In my humble opinion, most of the people involved in making residential buildings more energy efficient, which includes subscribers to the likes of Green Building Advisor and Fine Homebuilding, to name a few, will continue to push the envelope in energy efficient design and continue building, as they have, pushing energy efficiency always far out beyond the existing building code. And if you ask why, I believe it's much the same as exploring the surface of the moon or the fringes of space- because we can and we must.

  4. T. Barker | | #4

    It's the Right Decision
    Yes, but having a consistent code across any state or province is the right decision.

    It's idiotic that each municipality can create their own building code rules that supercede the state building code. What's next? Each neighborhood creates additional rules based on how the oldest resident on the street thinks you should insulate your house?

    If the state code isn't strict enough, then lobby at the appropriate level to get the code changed. Don't give more power to local bureaucratic office dwellers, and don't place more rules on private business people or homeowners.

  5. George Lee | | #5

    Idaho dilemma ?
    Here in NJ we follow the International code however every municipality has the right to tweek the code to the particular need of that area. It is not that difficult to follow local adaptations to the code. You just need to question your local code officials as to any local concerns in that town.

  6. Bryanw511 | | #6

    I agree with their good
    I agree with their good intentions, but it would be asinine if every municipality had their own code.

  7. Malcolm Taylor | | #7

    Regional Concerns
    Regional concerns still belong in the State or Provincial code. Once cities start tweaking you end up with a patch-work of differing demands that stop at arbitrary boundaries.

    We have unique requirements in our code for coastal BC because of seismic and marine climate concerns.

    The city of Vancouver has adopted very strict energy performance requirements, which stop at its boundaries. The surrounding municipalities, consisting of a much larger population base, and indistinguishable except on a map, don't. Houses on opposite sides of a street end up operating under very different codes. That makes no sense.

  8. Patrick Stuart | | #8

    comes with the territory
    Rarely does a large entity adapt to a new standard without a smaller entity first taking a chance to demonstrate that a different way might be better. All this does is limit initiative and experimentation (not to mention self-determination) at the expense of a special interest or campaign contributor. If a contractor doesn’t want to build in a certain area . . . don’t build in that area.

    I’ve presented designs to several area commissions with rigid requirements that may not have applied to the house across the street. But without such commissions, there would be no historic districts or identifiable neighborhoods. It may be a pain, but there’s a reason behind it.

  9. User avater
    Stephen Sheehy | | #9

    We don't worry
    Here in Whitefield Maine, we haven't adopted the state code. Municipalities with fewer than 4000 residents can ignore the code. No building permits, no inspections, other than minimal inspection of plumbing drain and waste lines. There isn't even an electrical inspection. Needless to say, energy efficiency is often ignored.

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