Building Codes: Under Attack

The NRDC points why we can’t sit idly by while an energy efficiency “roll back” of the model building energy codes looms.

As reported by Laura Urbanek, the National Resources Defense Council’s senior energy policy advocate, in her blog:

Designing our homes and communities to be resilient in the face of natural disaster is becoming increasingly important. President Obama emphasized this last week with the announcement of a variety of public and private efforts to increase the resilience of communities against the impacts of climate change through building codes and standards.

… Preparing for greater risk of natural disasters due to climate change is absolutely critical, but wouldn’t it be even better if we could halt climate change in its tracks? The good news is that building codes also give us an important tool to fight climate change, not just respond to its effects: the building energy code. The building energy code is aimed at cutting energy waste within our homes and offices, thereby reducing the need to burn fossil fuels to generate the energy needed to run them—and also avoiding the harmful carbon pollution fueling climate change.

Unfortunately, the model building energy code is under attack and is at risk of being substantially weakened, at a time when its stringency and impact has never been more important. …

… Given how critical strong building energy codes are in the fight against the dangers of climate change, recent events in the residential energy code development process are very troubling. Code officials, builders, energy efficiency advocates, and others met last month in Louisville, KY for Technical Advisory Committee hearings for the development of the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC, the model energy code recognized by the Department of Energy and cited in federal law, which is updated every three years through a stakeholder process. It’s then up to local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce the codes).

Unfortunately for those of us who recognize energy efficiency as an unequivocal win for both homeowners and the environment, the advisory committee was beholden to the desires of the building industry to stick with the status quo—or worse. Advisory committee members not only rejected just about every proposal that would increase the energy efficiency—and therefore, the important climate benefits—of the energy code, they also took steps to roll back its efficiency.

If these proposals ultimately make it through the rest of the code development process, the 2018 IECC will be the first code to ever move backward on energy efficiency. Builders argued that requiring more energy efficiency will increase the purchase price of the home. While that’s true in some cases (and is something that NRDC and other energy efficiency advocates are very sensitive to), the advisory committee’s decisions simply didn’t take into account the fact that the cost of a home isn’t just about the purchase price.

Home energy bills are estimated to cost the average family around $2,000 each year—that’s more than $70,000 in energy costs over a 30 year period. Energy efficiency measures are easiest and cheapest to install at the time of construction and ensure that homes are more comfortable, more resilient, and don’t waste energy and money. Efficiency pays for itself! The results of the advisory committee hearings could mean that the 2018 energy code would be a very bad deal for homeowners and families.

Read Ubanek’s full blog here.