Improved Building Energy Model Code Challenged
This blog was co-authored by Kim Cheslak of the New Buildings Institute.
Better building codes mean lower energy bills, which results in lower costs for consumers and fewer carbon emissions for the planet. Sounds like a winning combination, right? That’s why we were delighted when the initial results of voting on the next national model building energy code indicated an estimated 10 percent improvement in energy efficiency, ensuring delivery on that combination of benefits. Unfortunately, opponents are now trying to reverse that progress.
Groups primarily from the residential sector have raised challenges to the initial 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) voting results announced in December, following more than a year of work to update the code that establishes the standard for building energy performance. If the opponents succeed in their challenges, it would undermine the will of the governmental voting members, who made clear that they view the code as a key tool in their fight against the climate crisis as buildings account for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.
In fact, the 2021 IECC update—the result of many cities and states voicing their desire for higher efficiency levels in newly constructed homes and buildings—could be one of the biggest efficiency gains in the last decade for the code.
The IECC Development Process
Every three years, the IECC code is reviewed and updated to account for improved technologies and practices to enhance efficiency for both residential and commercial projects. The new code is then available for adoption by states and jurisdictions. Developing an updated code involves proposal submissions, committee review and approval, public hearings, a comment process and voting by members of the International Code Council (ICC).
The ICC, which oversees development of the code, made voting more accessible in 2015 with an online option for qualified voters to participate (cdpAccess). That development figures into many of the challenges because it allows more people to weigh in, rather than the traditional set of fire and building code officials who comprised the majority of in-person votes in previous code development cycles.
Opponents have raised challenges in three specific areas, but none are valid in our view.
Validation of Voting Members
Claim 1: Voting members were not properly validated by the International Code Council.
This objection is apparently being raised because local government and related agencies chose to participate in the 2021 code to turn the tide on the loss of momentum in efficiency improvements over the last two development cycles in 2015 and 2018. Extensive outreach and education by a broad coalition of partners helped raise awareness about who is considered an eligible voter, the importance of the vote, and its potential to make significant progress to achieve local and state climate and sustainability goals.
Municipalities today have multiple agencies and staff actively engaged in the implementation and enforcement of ordinances that directly impact their buildings. Local governments followed the ICC’s process to be eligible to vote, were vetted and determined to be eligible by ICC, gained membership to the ICC, registered their voting members, and voted (either at the public comment hearings or online) according to ICC bylaws.
Overturned Committee Votes with Two-Thirds Approval
Claim 2: That votes on proposals strengthening efficiency in the IECC, which were approved by two-thirds of the voting members to override the committee’s initial rejection, are invalid.
Under the code development process, proposals are submitted by industry advocates, manufacturers, and others with knowledge about building practices. Proposals submitted for the 2021 model code were vetted by an ICC committee of experts in Albuquerque last May. Proposals that were approved by the technical committee went forward and required a 50 percent approval from registered and validated voting members to be adopted. Proposals that were rejected by the committee could be reconsidered if brought back via last fall’s Public Comment Hearing in Las Vegas, but required a two-thirds vote from the registered and validated voters in order to be adopted.
In a resounding call for stronger efficiency in the code, the voters overrode the committee on a number of proposals. Opponents contend the online votes should be disregarded in favor of the initial committee decision and votes of a small group of members present at the Las Vegas public hearing. However, that would go squarely against the purpose in creating an online voting process where, according to ICC CEO Dominic Sims, “the ultimate goal… is to increase participation in code development.”
Online voting has created a more equitable decision-making process allowing more ICC members to participate through the online cdpAccess platform, even if when they are unable to travel to the in-person hearings.
IECC Intent and Scope
Claim 3: Two proposals related to building electrification do not belong in the code.
The intent of the model code is to “regulate the design and construction of buildings for the effective use and conservation of energy over the useful life of each building.” Two proposals related to electrification of buildings (CE217-19 and RE147-19) are being challenged even though they provide design and construction requirements that have a direct impact on the effective use of energy over the useful life of the buildings. Some municipalities are viewing electrification as a way to cut building carbon emissions, but these proposals do not require it and instead, support the goals through proactive design.
The challenges also do not follow the usual method for handling a proposal that might be out of scope, which previously involved a printed public analysis and notification of ICC members that no matter the outcome of their voting, the scoping decision would ultimately be made by the ICC Board. In this case, there was no indication the challenged proposals would be considered as only an “advisory recommendation,” which would have influenced the public comments filed on the proposal. Most importantly, omitting the proposals would set a dangerous precedent for future code development cycles by creating a path for opponents of a successful proposal to bypass the appeal process outlined in ICC rules, and instead petition the Validation Committee or the ICC Board directly.
What Happens Now?
We strongly believe the intention and rules of the code development process were followed in an open and equitable process. The challenges are currently being reviewed by the ICC and several letters of support for the efficiency improvements in the 2021 IECC already have been filed. We encourage all ICC members who voted on the 2021 model code to write the ICC today and demand that voting outcomes be upheld:
- Michael J. Pfeiffer, Vice President, Codes and Standards Development Liaison to International Code Council’s Validation Committee at email@example.com
- Greg Wheeler, CBO President, International Code Council at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dominic Sims, CEO International Code Council at Dsims@iccsafe.org
For more information on the IECC outcomes, visit: https://newbuildings.org/code_policy/2021-iecc-base-codes/ and https://www.nrdc.org/experts/lauren-urbanek/better-energy-code-holiday-gift-planet