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.
Get building science and energy efficiency advice, plus special offers, in your inbox.