Bipartisan Support of IECC

Codewatcher bipartisan support for IECC

This second part of a nine-part series addresses why Republicans and Democrats Passed a Federal Law Embracing Improvements to Each IECC Update.

Today’s partisan gridlock in Washington, DC makes it hard to imagine Republicans and Democrats working together to enact – not once, but three times – a federal statute rooted in the premise that each successive update of America’s Model Building Energy Code (the IECC) should save more energy than the IECC it replaces.  But that’s exactly what happened in 1992, 2005, and 2007, and not only were these bills signed into law by both Presidents Bush, but the Senate and House of Representatives that passed them were under both Republican and Democratic control and leadership.

The Driving Forces Compelling Efficiency: Energy Crises, Profitability & Competitiveness, Climate

Initially, it was the oil crises in the 1970s that drove Congress to act.  As cars, trucks, fuels, and factories became significantly cleaner and more energy efficient, America’s buildings emerged as our largest energy-consuming – and energy-wasting – sector.  Soon a growing gaggle of green builders and contractors showed us the myriad benefits of more efficient and even net-zero energy buildings – increased comfort, quality, and resale value and, of course, the fact that energy bill savings quickly recouped the incremental cost of efficiency measures, then put tens of thousands of dollars in the wallets of building owners and occupants.

America’s manufacturers have made stunning – voluntary – gains in the efficiency of their factories.  One Fortune 25 CEO reported that by investing in efficiency, his company is now making twice as many products with 37% less energy than in 2000.  While that makes his company sound green, lowering its cost of goods sold improves bottom lines which in turn boosts corporate resources for capital investment, hiring workers, enhancing employee benefits . . . even contributing to local philharmonics.

The 21st Century saw a new imperative – climate change, and the fact that buildings are the nation’s largest source of carbon emissions – that spurred mayors and other elected officials to get involved in IECC development, adoption, compliance, and enforcement.

Respecting Local and State Government Primacy on Codes, Congress Adds Carrots (and Sticks) for Improving the One Building Code with National Policy Implications

All 15 of the International Code Council’s “I-Codes” are updated every three years in a development process that culminates with votes cast principally by local and some state officials.  Once the I-Codes are published, they are then adopted principally by state and some local governments.  When they are law, they are enforced principally by local jurisdictions.

Until the IECC (and its predecessor, the Model Energy Code), Congress and the federal government stayed out of the substance of Building Energy Code updates.  After the oil crises, Uncle Sam realized that sound national energy policy couldn’t exclude buildings, not only because they were the largest energy consuming sector, but also because they last for 100 years and it pays to make permanent efficiency improvements at initial construction.

On October 24, 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act into law, requiring states to update minimum commercial building energy codes and to consider updating minimum residential codes.  The law is credited with spurring the development of the IECC and ASHRAE 90.1, which were specifically cited in subsequent laws triggering specific federal requirements if the U.S. Department of Energy determines that triennial updates improve building energy efficiency.

Specifically, within one year after an IECC update is published by ICC, two significant federal statutory requirements are triggered:

  1. The Energy Conservation & Production Act (ECPA) requires the Department of Energy (DOE) to determine whether the amended model code saves energy compared to the previous version. The federal government cannot force states to adopt each code but requires them to certify that they have reviewed it.
  2. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires HUD and USDA to establish the new IECC as the minimum efficiency standard for new homes with federal mortgages and new public housing. This policy protects homeowners and renters in those homes from high energy bills, protects the agencies from loan defaults by reducing volatility of homeowner expenses, and protects the environment by reducing energy waste.

ECPA also requires DOE to participate in the ICC’s IECC development process, even allowing them to submit code change proposals following an extensive & transparent process of stakeholder input.

Related Story: The IECC Is a Life Safety Code: Make It the Law

While the IECC’s development, adoption, and enforcement are still the province of local and state governments, ECPA directs DOE to encourage them to adopt IECC updates that improve efficiency and provide funding for builder and code official training. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized further incentive funding for states that update their energy codes, and also required DOE to update federal building standards.

Building Energy Efficiency Is on Nearly Everyone’s Priority List

It’s hard to find anyone who believes that Americans should pay higher energy bills to utilities.  Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder supported a stronger IECC for his state because it would “reduce energy waste” from homes and commercial buildings.  And the next part of this series of articles will focus on why low-income advocates support the construction of energy efficient homes, condos, and rental buildings.

While the strongest opposition to pro-efficiency IECC updates and state and local code adoption comes from the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) and some of its state and local homebuilder trade associations, a survey of top builders identified “Energy Efficiency” as the #1 emerging construction trend . . . “Green Building” and “Zero Energy Home” ranked #4 and #5, respectively.  And an NAHB poll of “What Today’s Homebuyers Want” found that 9 out of 10 Americans will pay 2-3% more for a new home with permanent energy efficiency features.  Despite these compelling statistics, after NAHB secured four out of 11 voting seats in the ICC’s Residential Energy Committee, one of the four announced his opposition to any IECC proposals that boost IECC “stringency” (read: “efficiency”).  Those four votes have stymied all but meager efficiency gains in the last two IECCs, the 2015 and 2018.

Trade associations aside, the growing ranks of green builders suggest they know – and reap – the benefits from efficient home and multifamily building construction.  For a taste of the burgeoning green construction phenomenon, take a look at GreenBuilder magazine’s “Green Home of the Year Awards.”

Bill Fay is Executive Director of Bill Fay leads the broad-based based Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC). Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: “Why Low-Income Advocates Support Codes that Ensure Energy Efficient Homes & Multifamily Buildings.”



Photo by DonkeyHotey