Existing buildings get new emphasis and clarity in IECC and other I-Codes

In seeming defiance of our own name, New Buildings Institute (NBI) has been working hard on a handful of key issues regarding existing buildings for the 2015 round of International Code Council (ICC) code development hearings. Recognizing the issues that exist in the I-Codes, especially in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), regarding historic buildings and existing buildings, NBI made these issues a priority in the 2015 code cycle. With the code hearings wrapping up last week, we thrilled to report on some big victories by large majorities in these areas.

Existing Buildings

The IECC applies to both new buildings and work done on existing buildings. While it’s pretty obvious how the provisions of the code applied to new buildings, how they applied to existing buildings can be confusing. The provisions apply differently depending on whether the project was an addition, an alteration, or just a repair, and the lines between those was not always so clear. Recognizing the impact that this confusion had on compliance and enforcement – and thus the tremendous impact on the code’s ability to save energy–the ICC put this issue before the Sustainability, Energy & High Performance Building Code Action Committee (SEHPCAC). NBI’s Jim Edelson played a significant role in the committee, contributing to the solution they developed. And NBI worked with code consultant Eric Makela and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) to add further clarification and code usability to the SEHPCAC proposal.SEHPCAC proposed the creation of a new “existing buildings” chapter in the IECC that would specifically address how the provisions of the IECC apply to existing buildings. This new chapter has dedicated sections for additions, alterations and repairs. Each section clearly defined the activity and described how the provisions of the code applied to them. Although this is a significant structural change, it did not change the intent of the code or the actual code requirements. It simply restructured those requirements to make them much easier to understand and apply. The additional Makela/IMT proposal does add further application guidance and enhanced requirements.

Historic Buildings

The IECC, International Existing Buildings Code (IEBC), and the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) all address historic buildings. However, these three codes had three different definitions of what a historic building actually is. Not only that, the IPMC doesn’t actually have a definition, but the IEBC had two. All of these definitions were different from each other and different from the definition in the International Building Code (IBC).The definition in the IECC was particularly problematic. It was included in the body of the code instead of in the definitions chapter and contained convoluted and hard to understand language. Additionally, it was worded in a way that completely exempted historic buildings from every provision of the IECC. Although many jurisdictions still applied the IECC selectively to historic buildings, this exemption created a huge missed opportunity for energy savings.Working with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Preservation Green Lab (PGL), the Washington Association of Building Officials and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), NBI sought to clarify the definition of “Historic Building” and to reasonably limit the exemption in the IECC. The collaboration’s proposal reorganized the definition for clarity, ensured the definitions were in the definitions section, and was submitted to five I-Codes up for consideration in this code cycle. In the case of the IECC, the proposal completely eliminated the exemption for additions to historic buildings and made the exemption from the other provisions of the IECC contingent on the submission of a report detailing why the provision would be detrimental to the historic character of the building.

All five proposals for the new definition were approved and will be in the 2015 I-codes!