Is 9 Times 12 Good for Energy Efficiency in Buildings?

This year, maybe not

Is 9 Times 12 Good for Energy Efficiency in Buildings?

The answer is 108, and it’s the number of hours that stakeholders spent assembling the ingredients for the next iteration of building energy codes—or what’s known as the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

The outcome from the first hearings this year did not bode well for energy efficiency and the gains that have been made in the energy codes since the 2009 IECC.  Southwest officials will need to speak up, attend and vote in October to make sure energy efficiency remains an important cornerstone in building energy codes.

Energy codes dictate how builders will make a home or office energy efficient. Since buildings in the U.S. contribute up to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, the codes are one of the most important tools available to municipalities and states for curtailing emissions and ensuring that houses and offices are healthy and low-cost to operate.

The outcome from the first hearings this year did not bode well for energy efficiency. 

The International Code Council (ICC) hearings are an endurance event held every third year.   This year in Louisville, KY, the hearings commenced at 8 a.m. every day from April 18-26 except Sunday when they started at 10 a.m. Each day’s hearings continued well into the night, typically ending at 10 p.m.

There were people from all over the globe participating, with state representatives coming from as far away as Hawaii to support and oppose code change proposals for the 2018 IECC.  The Southwest had good representation with attendees from Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada participating in the hearings.  Most of the time, the hearing room was filled with about 100 people who listened intently to the conversation. Other times, typically after lunch and dinner breaks and first thing in the morning, there may have only been 25 people in the room speaking for the next version of our national energy code.

Southwest officials will need to speak up, attend and vote in October to make sure energy efficiency remains an important cornerstone in building energy codes.

This energy conservation code cycle saw more than 500 code change proposals, of which approximately 200 were specific to the residential code.  Some proposals cleaned up language from the 2015 IECC, others added new requirements, still others added more energy efficiency while competing proposals reduced energy efficiency.  Some proposals were simple, and some complex.  Some proposals took hours to discuss while others took a matter of minutes to discuss and approve or disapprove.

The residential IECC committee was focused on decreasing costs for the homebuilder and not focused on energy savings, the economic or the environmental benefits of energy efficient homes.  The proposals from the April meeting are expected to be voted on by the governmental members this October at the 2018 IECC Public Comment Hearings in Kansas City.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

  • The equipment trade-off was reinstated.

The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) reinstated the equipment trade-off that was removed in the 2009 IECC.  The homebuilders worked to reinstate this provision in the 2012 and 2015 IECC but each time government officials voted it down. By adding the equipment tradeoff back into the code, builders can trade away more heavily insulated walls for a typical high efficiency furnace. This one change could make new homes up to 9% less efficient ( 

  • The committee allowed the insertion of the word “net” into the intent of the code.

This may seem like an insignificant addition to the code, but this one word now opens the code to include net energy use that can be reduced by solar photovoltaics as well as energy efficiency. This could further erode the efficiency of the building envelope.  The code has always focused on conservation until this year. With “net energy,”  renewable energy potentially could further impact the energy efficiency of new homes.

  • The Energy Rating Index (HERS) score would be raised from 51-55 to 57-62, depending upon climate zone.

The lower the score, the more efficient a building.  These higher scores could further reduce the energy efficiency of a home by 5-7% using the Energy Rating Index scale of 1 point equals 1% in home efficiency.

There were a few key proposals among the many discussed throughout the week:

  1. New climate zones were proposed because of higher average temperatures in some areas of the country. Some counties would be moved to a warmer climate zone. The proposal was disapproved because the list of counties and the climate zone map from ASHRAE Standard 169-2013 would not be reproduced in the IECC;
  2. An air infiltration rate back-stop was added to the performance path;
  3.  The solar-ready appendix was kept in the IECC but was disapproved for inclusion in the International Residential Energy Code.
  4. Improvements to hot water efficiencies was disapproved while new, additional, compliance paths were shot down.
  5.  A new chapter was disapproved for multifamily buildings. It would have gathered into one chapter all of the requirements within the code that affect multifamily buildings.

After participating in the International Energy Conservation Code hearings for almost 10 years, I know the process seems crazy but it works somehow.

The code hearings are a spectacle.  You could attend just one day and walk away wondering how anything could happen in the building energy codes.  After participating in the code hearings for almost 10 years now, I know the process seems crazy, but it works somehow.

The next steps are to try and keep 2015 IECC code provisions in the 2018 IECC by having municipalities, industry, and others write public comments to overturn the committee decisions on some of the code proposals.  Greater participation from governmental ICC members from the Southwest is important, and SWEEP will be encouraging government officials to attend the code hearings in Kansas City in October to vote. There is also a need to educate many stakeholders over the next six months on the impacts to efficiency, resiliency, economics and environment if the negative new code proposals are upheld in October.  

Jim Meyers is the Buildings Program Director at SWEEP. He is responsible for conducting analysis, preparing case studies, evaluating new and emerging technologies for buildings, and promoting the adoption of state-of-the-art building energy codes.