Landmark US Building Codes Finalized

The International Codes Council on Friday released the final version of their landmark update for US building codes.

The changes represent the largest single-step efficiency increase in the history of the national energy code. It requires homes and buildings to achieve energy savings 30% higher than the 2006 code. 

Since homes and buildings produce fully half of US greenhouse gases and use over 75% of the electricity generated from power plants, the new code is a very significant energy policy decision.  

The upgraded International Energy Conservation Code is expected to save American homes and businesses $40 billion annually in energy costs by 2030, says the Alliance to Save Energy. The code will also eliminate the need for about 47 coal plants.

The International Codes Council is comprised of about 500 state and local building code officials from around the country, who meet every three years to consider updates to the International Energy Conservation Code. Last October, they voted overwhelmingly to approve the stronger codes, which were finalized by the IECC last week.

"It’s notable that the votes that will have the most profound impact on national energy and environmental policy this year weren’t held in Washington or a state capital, but by governmental officials assembled by the International Code Council in Charlotte, North Carolina," says EECC Executive Director William Fay.

"If your roof was leaking water, you’d fix it," says Emily Fischer, Clean Energy Associate at Environment America. "Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to construct new buildings that leak energy, particularly when many builders across the country are already constructing homes that meet and even exceed the new codes approved today. The newly approved codes seal up those energy leaks, put cash back in people’s pockets, and could prevent millions of tons of pollution."

The Energy Efficient Codes Coalition – an alliance of government, business, manufacturing, low-income housing, and environmental groups – developed and advocated for the new package of code updates.

Local building codes across the country are based on these national model standards. The new codes address all aspects of residential and commercial building construction, laying a strong foundation for efficiency gains.

In the residential sector, improvements will:

  • Better seal new homes to reduce heating and cooling loss
  • Improve the efficiency of windows and skylights
  • Increase insulation in ceilings, walls, and foundations
  • Reduce wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts
  • Improve hot-water distribution systems to reduce wasted energy and water in piping
  • Boost lighting efficiency

In addition to those features, commercial building codes include continuous air barriers, daylighting controls, use of economizers in additional climates, and a choice of three paths for designers and developers to increase efficiency: renewable energy systems, more efficient HVAC equipment, or improved lighting systems. It also requires commissioning of new buildings to ensure that actual building energy performance  meets the design intent.

Attempts by the homebuilders’ lobby to roll back efficiency provisions from the 2009 code were defeated.

Even considering the marginal increase in construction costs for more efficient buildings, these measures will save homeowners money by reducing monthly utility bills. The net savings translate into an extra $500 for the average homeowner each year.

However, while the national model energy codes are now 30% stronger, those energy savings are not yet guaranteed for homeowners. States, counties, and cities will now consider adoption of the new codes.

For more information, read the report "Building Better: How High-Efficiency Buildings Will Save Money and Reduce Global Warming" at the link below.

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