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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Updating Vermont’s Energy Code

The “package plus points” approach gives builders flexibility

Since most Vermont towns lack any code enforcement officers, the vast majority of new homes in Vermont don't get inspected. Without a code enforcement mechanism, the main "enforcement" tool used by the Vermont Public Service Department is an education campaign encouraging voluntary compliance with the code. [Image credit: Vermont Energy Code Assistance Center]

Vermont regulators who are rewriting the state’s building energy codes have adopted a revolutionary and progressive approach, providing new evidence that Vermonters are at the cutting edge of building code development and climate change action. This news is evidence that sometimes, small states can lead the way.

A group of employees of the Vermont Department of Public Service, aided by consultants and volunteers, are completing work on a new version of the Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES), Vermont’s energy code for single-family homes and duplexes. Like most energy codes in the U.S., this Vermont code is based on the International Energy Conservation Code. That said, the proposed changes will make the Vermont version so different from the IECC that it’s almost a new code.

At the Better Buildings by Design conference in Burlington, Vermont, on February 7, 2019, two energy code specialists (Richard Faesy and David Keefe) gave a presentation on the code revision process. “Vermont has a comprehensive energy plan requiring designing for net zero by 2030,” Faesy told the audience. “That’s one of the goalposts we are striving for, so we’re asking, ‘What will we have to do each step of the way to get there?’”

Vermont is different

Vermont is a rural state without any effective code enforcement mechanisms. The vast majority of Vermont towns have no building inspectors, and the vast majority of new homes are completed without being inspected.

For the last decade or so, Vermont has had a voluntary system of code compliance that goes like this: builders who complete a new home are supposed to sign a declaration that the house meets code requirements, and are expected to file that declaration with the local town clerk. Some builders complete these declarations, but many don’t.

“You are supposed to build…

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  1. fwsolar | | #1

    Good on ya, Vermont! In parts of Indiana we have a similar lack of code enforcement, but also lack the noble aspirations.

    As climate change comes home to roost, I guess a lot of people will suddenly start to care quite a lot about the environment generally, and carbon emissions specifically. Vermont will be ready to teach the rest of us how it's done.

    Onward and upward, Vermont. A humble suggestion: let's get started on code-approved composting toilets!

    1. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #2

      Of course, regulations governing composting toilets vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. According to one online source, "the state of Oregon now includes site-built composting toilets as a legal option (find the section in Oregon’s 'Reach Code')."

  2. chimewind | | #3

    Using PV panels for domestic hot water has become increasing common due to the zero maintenance, simplicity, and competitive pricing compared to solar thermal systems. Does the code allow for up to 6 points using only PVs for electric and domestic hot water? Would be a good modification to code if not.

    1. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #4

      If you install a PV array on a grid-connected house, there is no way to determine what the electricity is used for. It isn't dedicated to any particular purpose -- it's just electricity. It's not as if a traffic cop is directing electrons.

      The maximum number of points for a PV system under the proposed Vermont "package plus points" approach is 4 points.

      1. chimewind | | #5

        I was actually thinking of separate PV direct hot water system. Europe and other countries are starting to provide these. Difference with these is they take the voltage directly from the PV panels and don't necessarily involve an inverter or rely on a dump load based off of battery bank voltage. Here is one for example from Australia which can also feed back into grid but you don't have to do that. You can keep the two systems separate (your grid tied PV array(s) and your PV water heating array(s)) if necessary . Still is advantageous to not have to deal with fluids, pumps, moving parts, etc. Hence my suggestion the code allow such a setup.

        Update: Added german product which does exactly what I was saying:

  3. hhjason | | #6

    As a builder in Vermont, I can say that the majority of builders in Vermont are not as "enlightened" as this code assumes. Nor are the majority of clients. The lack of a regulatory process / inspections is a real problem. And as the code becomes more restrictive (of which I'm in agreement with) the wedge between good and bad is driven deeper. And I'd argue that in the macro picture the bad is winning. And overall efficiency is not trending toward zero energy ready.

    I remember back in college when an econ professor removed my rose colored glasses for me. We were talking about fuel efficient cars. And he said unless you hit them in the wallet (gas prices), the majority of the population won't change behavior. And with current propane prices around $1.50/gallon . . . . . . . . . .

    A regulatory process / inspections aren't the carrot of the wallet. But they are a stick. And a stick will do just the same. It's time for the PSB and their consultants to remove their rose colored glasses. And grab a stick.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #7


      All the significant improvements in buildings here in British Columbia have been driven by mandatory code changes and enforcement. Except at the margins of the industry, in boutique projects, appealing to people's better nature doesn't seem to be very effective.

    2. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #8

      I have to agree with you and Malcolm. Without a code enforcement mechanism, Vermont's building energy code is as effective as a sonnet or a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.

      It may be a thing of beauty, but it isn't having much effect on the job site.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #9

        Unfortunately it's probably true of most fields. wood stoves only improved their efficiency when the EPA mandated it. Same with car emissions, pesticide residue limits in food, water quality, and on and on.

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