Energy Efficiency Wins Big in New Residential Building Codes

October 11, 2013

A groundbreaking change to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code will offer a new way to achieve significant energy savings while providing more flexibility to builders.

Energy efficiency advocates celebrated a major victory this week at the 2013 International Code Council (ICC) Annual Conference and Public Comment Hearings where building code officials approved an updated code to reduce energy waste in new homes, while overcoming attempts to roll back the current code’s energy-saving measures.

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One of the most significant code updates under consideration, a proposal known as RE-188, adds a new optional compliance pathway to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). It would allow builders to comply by using an energy rating index (ERI), such as the Home Energy Rating System known as HERS, to meet the code’s energy-saving goals instead of having to install many prescriptive energy efficiency measures specified by the code. Approximately 40 percent of new homes are already rated using the HERS system, which is utilized for compliance in other programs  such as the new homes tax credit and ENERGY STAR, making the timing ripe for this addition to the code as a compliance path.

The update was supported by a number of groups, including the Institute for Market Transformation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Britt/Makela Group. “This is a huge win-win for new homeowners, builders, and for energy efficiency—our cheapest, cleanest resource,” said Meg Waltner, Natural Resources Defense Council’s Manager for Building Energy Policy. “This is a cost-effective approach that will help cut utility costs for homeowners, give greater flexibility to homebuilders in complying with the code, and create a stronger market for even more efficient homes by giving home buyers an MPG-like rating to compare the homes side by side.”

The update will provide a boon to homeowners through reduced energy bills and greater information on their home’s efficiency. Builders will also have a new compliance option using this path: documentation of the ERI score and of meeting the mandatory code provisions prepared by a certified third-party. Under the HERS system, these third-party verifiers are certified energy efficiency experts and a random sample of their work is quality-checked; their involvement will help improve compliance by reducing the burden on code officials.

Many builders are expected to disclose the results of energy ratings to the home’s occupants, providing another layer of verification, and creating a better market for homes whose energy efficiency surpasses the current building code. And, if Congress passes the SAVE Act (which would improve the accuracy of mortgage underwriting by factoring in energy costs), these ratings would enable borrowers to more easily qualify for mortgages to buy energy-efficient homes or to refinance and improve their homes’ efficiency.

“With this updated building code, a broad coalition including advocates and homebuilders has overcome past suspicion to craft a solution to give builders greater flexibility to innovate and reduce costs while raising the bar for energy efficiency,” said IMT’s Cliff Majersik. “This move creates a foundation for improved code compliance and more information and options for homeowners. I’m proud of what we accomplished by coming together and thinking outside the box.”

At the ICC Hearings in Atlantic City, building code officials also defeated a proposal that would roll back efficiency levels from the current 2012 code.

“Maintaining the highest standards for energy codes is vital to keeping homes safe and energy-efficient, and our environment protected from harmful greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ryan Meres, Senior Code Compliance Specialist for IMT.