2018 IECC: A Lost Year for Energy Efficiency?

Home builders “take back” (then lead efficiency roll backs of) Energy I-Code.


It was January 2011 in Las Vegas, and the mood at NAHB’s Codes and Standards Committee meeting was defiant. Just three months before in Charlotte, ICC’s local and state Governmental Member Voting Representatives (GMVRs) had overwhelmingly approved a landmark 2012 IECC that was 38% more energy efficient than a 2006 IECC home.

The GMVRs had also voted to eliminate the IRC Building & Energy Code Committee (after rejecting the lion’s share of its recommendations in favor of the recommendations of the IECC Energy Conservation Committee) and clarified the IECC’s intent to regulate the design and construction of buildings for the effective use and conservation of energy over the useful life of each building.

The Committee’s Chair put it succinctly: “We have to take back our code!”

Last week they succeeded in winning Residential Energy Committee (REC) recommendations that not only didn’t add to the efficiency of the 2018 IECC update, but would significantly cut those 38% gains supported by ICC’s Governmental Members. For example:

• NAHB won approval of its proposal to reinstate the equipment trade off (ETO) loophole that code officials eliminated in the 2009 IECC, voted twice to keep out of the 2012 IECC, and voted again to keep out of the 2015 IECC. Not only have Governmental Members been crystal clear that they don’t want the ETO loophole in the code, but nearly every state that has adopted the 2009 or newer IECC has kept the loophole out, as well. Reinstating the ETO loophole will make new homes use at least 6-9% more energy nationwide!
• The REC also voted to include onsite generation in the new ERI path, which was itself adopted to improve builder flexibility. Not only has generation never been considered in the IECC . . . its focus is conservation of energy, not generation . . . but in this case generation can be traded off to weaken the envelope efficiency of the home, which runs directly counter to the IECC’s intent.
• Finally, they increased (weakened) the ERI numbers in the 2015 IECC from 51-55 (depending upon climate zone) to 57-62, clearly rolling back the efficiency of the code. These new, weaker numbers were also offered – but rejected – in the Atlantic City Public Comment Hearing.

Here’s how they succeeded in “taking back their code” . . .

• As mentioned earlier, GMVRs voted overwhelmingly to eliminate the IRC Building & Energy Code Committee (IRC-BECC), which had 12 members, 4 of which were NAHB appointees (in contrast, the IECC Energy Conservation Committee, had 15 seats, one of which was appointed by NAHB).
• The elimination of the IRC-BECC was proposed by building officials from Colorado and Virginia with the expectation that the IECC Energy Conservation Committee would hear future code proposals.
• Instead, in 2011, the ICC Board essentially resurrected the failed IRC-BECC structure with 12 members, 4 of which were NAHB appointees, and renamed it the Residential Energy Committee. Last week in Louisville, the REC’s roll back recommendations were hauntingly similar to those that the IRC-BECC used to make.

But code officials should ask: Is the IECC their code to take back?

A builder’s interest in a new home largely ends on the day they give up the keys. That explains their mania over the first cost of efficiency (and most other) improvements. It’s like they view a home as a snapshot of the day it is sold. But in reality, home ownership is more like a motion picture. Even with today’s low natural gas prices, a home’s energy bills average around $2,000 a year – that adds up to $60,000 over a typical 30-year mortgage and $160,000+ over a home’s long life. No wonder an NAHB survey found that 9 out of 10 Americans would pay 2-3% more for a home with permanent efficiency features.

The IECC is all about reducing energy bills after the keys are in the owners’ hands. In fact, investing in the efficiency features in the 2012 or 2015 IECCs would build homes that would save enough energy to put tens of thousands of dollars in the wallets of their owners – after quickly recouping efficiency improvements – over their 80-100 year lifetime. ICC’s GMVRs have always viewed I-code in the long term, whether they provide homeowners with long term safety, reliability, or energy savings.

But there’s more to the IECC:
• For families, who live in homes that are better built, more comfortable, quieter, and have a higher resale value,
• For utility grids, which are more stable because efficient homes perform best during those pesky peak load times, like heat waves and cold snaps, and because they use less energy, which reduces the need for new power plants, and help stabilize energy costs for owners of inefficient homes, and
• For the nation, whose leaders in Congress and the White House have made the IECC the only I-Code cited in federal law and who have made it clear that they want each update to be more efficient than the last.

The IECC is America’s code, and it is the product of local and state officials from across the nation.

Bill Fay leads the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC), a unique, broad-based alliance of longstanding energy efficiency advocates who support adoption of the best achievable efficiency practices into America’s model energy code for new home and commercial building construction (IECC).