Several weeks ago you flipped your hanging calendar to a new adorable cat picture, or maybe hotrods are your preference. Either way, it is clearly 2016. For those who still write checks as payment, remember to write in 2016 on the date line. In the building construction world, the changing of the year with respect to code compliance is not nearly so clear. Specifically, let’s consider the energy conservation code. Does your state or city follow the latest most current model? The answer is likely, no. That begs the question, is it the 2009, 2012 or 2015 code where you are working?
The 2009 cycle of the energy conservation code made significant steps toward meeting the goal of reduced building energy usage, increasing building envelope tightness and equipment efficiencies. This is the goal of subsequent versions of the code. To energy conservation purists, this is a great thing. To building design professionals and product manufacturers, this is a challenge. To building owners and developers, this is a potential initial cost increase to their projects.
There was a great deal of political pressure from the federal government in 2008 and 2009 to have more states adopt the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This was done by putting conditions on funds available to states through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, known as the “stimulus package.” One noticeable effect that the stimulus program had was to get a majority of states on the same page with the adoption of the 2009 IECC.
Over time, this document has become understood by most parties in the construction process as an inevitable fact of life, regardless of the costs associated or the changes to some tried and true construction processes. Architects and engineers are not always receptive to changing their ways. Builders may be even less willing to modify their methods. Post-recession construction financing methods put an ever-increasing pressure on project budgets. This results in a heavy emphasis on first costs over life-cycle costs. That mindset is opposite of the goal of the energy code, to reduce long-term consumption. As each code cycle advances, adding new requirements and restricting current practices, construction costs are likely to increase further.
Each state has their own legislative process for adopting new codes. Whether the influx of republican governors or the elimination of federal funding incentives had any effect, the adoption by state legislatures to newer energy codes slowed dramatically over the last five years. Another possibility was the overall reduction in building department staff during and following a recession period of slow construction activity and municipal budget crises. Some areas saw active lobbying efforts by groups such as the National Association of Home Builders, to slow adoption of the 2012 and later codes in an effort to keep construction costs from increasing in tough economic times.
Adoption of the newer codes is inevitable regardless of the lobbying efforts and resistance of the building community. It simply looks bad to the general public when their state is perceived as falling behind the times on energy conservation. While the chart below shows a relatively large number of states on the 2012 cycle, most of them put it into effect in the late part of 2015.
State Energy Code Adoption (as of January, 2016)
Current Version # of States Adopted
2015 IECC 6
2012 IECC 18
2009 IECC 16
2007 or earlier IECC 10
*US Department of Energy Website – http://energy.gov/
Once the clock starts moving forward again and updated codes become the law of the land, there will be some hurdles to overcome with construction projects. Some new devices, control systems and equipment will have to be incorporated into architectural and engineering plans. More stringent verification methods and building commissioning will be required on projects that would have never considered them in the past.
You can make an argument that the efforts to reduce energy consumption are turning into a social experiment to modify our behavior by affecting the smallest nuances of our daily lives, in our homes. Nothing is more taken for granted than the lights coming on immediately with the flip of a switch, or readily available hot water at the tap. These newer codes aim to change that. The end goal is noble, but the path to achieving it will require some education, construction changes and potentially more money.