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Building Matters

The International Code Council Advocates for a Uniform Ecosystem of Codes

With widespread adoption, building codes can support energy efficiency, increase resilience, boost the economy, and tackle climate change

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.

10 Comments

  1. Expert Member
    Armando Cobo | | #1

    1. Per NAHB: 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.
    2. Per the 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)
    3. Per National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) found that adopting the IBC and IRC generates a national benefit of $11 for every $1 invested.
    4. Per the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI): ZER homes fall under a 3% incremental cost in most parts of the country, with that cost dropping under 1% in select locations such as Houston, Texas.
    5. When I taught the Green Building courses at NAHB, we told Builders and Remodelers that high-performing houses save money, and several of my clients, build for the same costs as their competitors.
    6. Per NAHB: A $1,000 increase in the price of that median-priced new home will further price over 150,000 U.S. households out of the market... they been saying that for years!
    Where is the disconnect? What is it that I’m missing? 😳

    1. John Clark | | #4

      How much do you think exterior insulation would add to the cost for a production builder?

    2. Steve Hall | | #10

      Yet the NAHB is the single biggest lobby for "affordable homes." Here in NC, our energy codes have been rolled back to the Stone Age under the premise that it helps make houses more affordable. In reality, the cost is simply being shifted from the builder to the owner, from single-time initial cost to the-rest-of-eternity maintenance and energy bills—shameful.

  2. Jon R | | #2

    > 2021 IECC .. over .. 2018 IECC—saving homeowners an average of $2320 over the life of a typical mortgage.

    I'd like to see discussion about the NAHB claim that some portions of the 2021 IECC go too far and are not cost effective, meaning the $ savings would increase with some amendments to the 2021 IECC. To their credit, I didn't see NAHB objections to the bulk of the 2021 IECC - despite the increase in building costs.

    With carbon, it's never about "does X save carbon?". It's how the $/ton compares to alternatives that might accomplish more with less.

    1. John Clark | | #3

      IIRC the NAHB sees their labor costs going up.
      For example it's going to take more time and expertise to put up a wall with exterior insulation. Even ZIP isn't a no-brainer when one considers QC looking for overdriven nails and poorly applied tape. This doesn't include the additional moisture risk from improper detailing.

      Perhaps this is why builders would rather throw solar panels on the roof and not worry about the rest.

      1. Expert Member
        Peter Engle | | #5

        NAHB doesn't see anything except their members complaining about increased regulation. Yes, there are increased labor costs for adding things like exterior insulation and performing actual QC on the building shell. But there are savings from smaller mechanical equipment, and the QC means fewer callbacks. As Armando has explained numerous times, it is possible to build ZER homes for the same price as the typical energy suckers put out by the production builders.

        90% efficient equipment wasn't embraced by the builders my home state (NJ) until the realized that sidewall venting meant that they didn't have to build chimneys anymore. The money saved on the chimney could be spent on the 90% upgrade, leaving some left over for the builder's pocketbooks. Suddenly, 90% equipment was all the rage. For the same reason (or its opposite), they're all still putting 80% equipment in attics. Reason 1 is because they can. Reason 2 is that they see no ROI for 90% equipment because they don't save anything on the installation. It's all just money.

        1. John Clark | | #6

          [. As Armando has explained numerous times, it is possible to build ZER homes for the same price as the typical energy suckers put out by the production builders.]

          Of course it is. You can either throw solar on the roof or build a $1M+ home where the upgrade in materials is a negligible cost adder. I don't believe it can be done on a 2-3k sq/ft house.

          Builders in my state (GA, CZ3) have continually torpedoed exterior insulation as an unacceptable cost adder. Even with the hybrid wall*

          *2x4's mounted near interior edge of 2x6 sole plate which allows rigid exterior foam to remain in plane with the band joist.

        2. Expert Member
          Armando Cobo | | #7

          John - It's not just me. Just because most Builders haven't figured out how to get there, it doesn't mean it can't be done! Check the many Builders in your area building ZERHs under the DOE program, who build affordable housing projects and smaller houses. https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/maps/doe-tour-zero
          The fact is that most of my projects like to use high-end products that I can't say they are in the 1-3% extra. When you use SunPower PV, Tesla PV tiles, storage systems, generators, FEMA rooms, 135 MPH (EF2) framing, bars, theaters, high-end appliances and fixtures, etc. But I've also designed many smaller houses, including affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity houses and Wounded soldier's homes... so yes, I can definitely tell you it can be done.

      2. Jason S. | | #8

        "it's going to take more time and expertise to put up a wall with exterior insulation. Even ZIP isn't a no-brainer"

        Builders can choose from any number of generic nailbase insulated sheathings, wrapped and detailed with any WRB they like and everyone's happy. It doesn't have to be difficult. It doesn't have to be expensive. It's just risk-averse, status quo business as usual.

  3. Expert Member
    Armando Cobo | | #9

    This week, a couple of TV stations here in North Texas have been running stories about homeowners who after 10 months since their homes were destroyed by the February freeze, still don’t have their houses fixed due to insurance companies “gaming” the system. I still blame those house’s failures to the rampantly horrible and fraudulent building practices by our industry and building officials. I wonder if all of the ICC and NAHB Economists have ever added those costs and aggravations to their "Economic Analyses".

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