Communities rely on buildings to house its residents and support it businesses. Ensuring buildings are designed and constructed for resilience and operational efficiency can mean less damage, less disruption, and lower operating costs. It also reduces the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to a changing climate.
Many communities are taking steps to future-proof buildings by making them sustainable and resilient. In fact, governmental officials from all levels, including the new U.S. administration and state and local jurisdictions, are racing to prioritize the adoption of energy-efficient tools and strategies. Through the current administration’s Build Back Better plan, part of the onus in reducing emissions is placed on the building industry, which accounts for about 40% of all U.S. energy consumption and a similar proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. The White House has called for the construction, preservation, and retrofit of two million homes and commercial buildings.
Energy codes drive economic savings, sustainability, and resiliency
With communities searching for solutions to address energy use, reduce emissions, and bolster the local economy, adopting and implementing energy codes is the natural solution. Modern and innovative model building codes like the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and chapter 11 of the International Residential Code (IRC) have already been developed to help achieve zero-energy buildings. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that through 2040 energy codes and standards could save $126 billion in energy costs, equivalent to the emissions of 177 million passenger vehicles, 245 coal power plants, or 89 million homes. Additionally, the DOE’s final determination finding indicates that the residential provisions of the 2021 IECC provide a 9.4% improvement in energy use and an 8.7% improvement in carbon emissions over the 2018 IECC—saving homeowners an average of $2320 over the life of a typical mortgage.
Yet, according to the DOE and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 14 states have adopted codes that are at least 20% less efficient than the current IECC, while another ten states have no statewide energy code adopted.
Both the current administration and the International Code Council (ICC) have recognized the key role energy codes play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement—including achieving the recently announced nationally determined contribution (NDC) of greenhouse gas reductions of 50% to 52% compared to a 2005 baseline by 2030.
Understanding the importance of providing communities with as many tools as possible to address one of the biggest issues of our time, the Code Council recently released its new framework, Leading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate.
The framework builds off the success of the IECC and IRC and provides a multi-pronged approach to delivering energy efficiency and other greenhouse gas–reduction strategies. Furthermore, the Code Council launched its “Code on a Mission” challenge, which aims to have over a third of the U.S. population covered by the 2021 IECC by the end of 2023.
Already industry leaders like Architecture 2030, the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC), Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Southwest Energy Efficiency Partnership (SWEEP), Alliance to Save Energy, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), New Buildings Institute (NBI), Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), and Responsible Energy Codes Alliance (RECA) have shown their support for the initiative.
Homeowners are demanding energy-efficiency features, which up-to-date energy codes can help deliver. According to a 2020 Dodge Data & Analytics and National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) survey, over half (57%) of builders and remodelers rank products/systems related to energy efficiency as the primary request they receive from homeowners, and most (84%) rank it in their top three.
The greatest benefits of building codes and standards come with consistency in adoption and enforcement. National builders can capture efficiencies of scale, with consistency in plans and components across jurisdictions, while custom builders have greater access to components and the assurance that all new homes constructed in their service area start from the same baseline of requirements (rather than a race to the bottom). Additionally, uniformity provides greater access to education and training on the codes and consistency in the criteria the trades must follow in a region.
However, they are currently evaluated and adopted on a state-by-state basis in the U.S., or in some cases by local jurisdiction, leading to a disjointed and inefficient system. Therefore, it is critical that we push for the adoption of model codes that promote uniform regulatory requirements, promoting economies of scale—only then can our communities achieve their sustainability and resiliency goals, which subsequently will greatly boost market efficiency.
The adoption of modern building codes supports a strong economy
While best known for ensuring the safety of our buildings and safeguarding the health and wellbeing of building occupants, when building codes and standards like the International Codes (I-Codes)—the most widely accepted, comprehensive set of model codes worldwide—form an ecosystem of building policies, it also benefits local and national economies.
For example, with natural hazards like hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires worsening in frequency and intensity, building codes and standards can mitigate the structural damage caused and lessen the overall cost. According to a recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) analysis, the U.S. would save $600 billion by 2060 if all new buildings were built to current editions of the International Residential Code (IRC) and International Building Code (IBC). Additionally, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) found that adopting the IBC and IRC generates a national benefit of $11 for every $1 invested.
Yet, that same FEMA study found that 65% of counties, cities, and towns across the U.S. have not adopted modern building codes.
While the Code Council has laid the foundation, it is up to us—from local business leaders to influential community figures—to promote the adoption, implementation, and utilization of a uniform ecosystem of codes. We are in a race against time to future-proof our communities, and with the tools at our disposal to create sustainable and resilient communities in the long-term, there is no time to waste.
Ryan Colker is Vice President of Innovation for the International Code Council.