Big Efficiency Gains in Model Energy Codes

Last week was a big win for energy efficiency in Charlotte, North Carolina. Government officials from across the country voted to make the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (known as the IECC) for residential buildings approximately 30 percent more efficient than its 2006 predecessor and also voted for similar efficiency gains in the commercial section. The IECC is a model energy code that states and localities can adopt as their own energy code (as you may remember Governors from all 50 states agreed to adopt and implement the 2009 IECC when they accepted Recovery Act funds). The IECC is the primary code used for residential buildings and is also used for many commercial buildings, particularly low-rise.

Strong energy codes ensure new buildings capture energy efficiency at the time of construction. When a consumer buys a new home or commercial building they generally assume it will use less energy than a comparable older building, but without energy codes this won’t necessarily be the case. Energy codes make sure a building is built right from the start – well insulated, properly sealed, good duct and pipe systems, efficient windows, and high efficiency lighting and equipment. These are all things that are best done when a building is first constructed and will save consumers money on their energy bills. For instance, a DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory study found that 30% energy savings in an average home would save consumers $511 a year.

So how does the IECC actually get made? The code is developed over a three year cycle during which the International Code Council (ICC; the organization that publishes the IECC) holds hearings to consider changes to the previous edition of the code. Anyone can attend, testify, and propose changes to the code, but only government officials who attend the hearings can actually vote on the modifications.

For the final 2012 IECC, government officials voted to include the Department of Energy’s (DOE) comprehensive residential proposal which accounts for the bulk of the energy savings, in addition to several other individual proposals which bring the total to roughly 30%. On the commercial side, government officials approved the comprehensive joint proposal from DOE, the New Buildings Institute, and the American Institute of Architects. The efficiency improvements include:

  • More insulation in ceilings, walls and foundations;
  • Higher efficiency windows and skylights;
  • Stronger air sealing requirements;
  • Better duct sealing; and
  • More efficient hot water distribution systems.

The final 2012 IECC will be published early next year. Of course, this won’t be the end of the road for efficiency in new buildings. Next, the 2012 IECC needs to be adopted and implemented by states and localities in order to actually achieve the energy savings. And, of course, even further efficiency gains are still feasible and cost-effective, some of which were included in proposals that didn’t make it into the final code in Charlotte this past week.

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