Historic Change to Building Codes Approved: Now What?

Last October, local government representatives and code officials gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina, for an historic vote on one of our national model energy codes, the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). By approving the package of proposed changes, they ensured that every commercial building located in the jurisdictions that follow the 2012 IECC will use a quarter less energy than those constructed with conventional building practices.

Indeed, these changes represent the largest single-step increase in efficiency in the history of the IECC. Perhaps more important, these changes were passed with widespread support from the many organizations and businesses affected by the resulting commercial code, including industry trade groups and manufacturers, that saw the need to significantly advance the efficiency requirements in the 2012 IECC.  The measures outlined in the code changes employ off-the-shelf strategies and technologies already in practice. They are readily available, affordable and practical.

We are greatly encouraged by this development. Despite a stalled federal energy legislation and disagreement among national policymakers about how to tackle climate change, there is growing consensus among players in the commercial building market that increasing the efficiency of commercial buildings provides the best opportunity to lower energy use and subsequently energy bills.

The federal government, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, the stimulus bill), requires 90 percent compliance with a commercial building code at least as stringent as the 2009 version of the IECC in order for states to receive funds. All fifty governors have indicated they will comply by the 2017 deadline. While ARRA is perhaps the most important federal action ever to bring commercial buildings in all states to a higher efficiency standard, the governors can and should do better.

Local jurisdictions—mostly cities and states—can adopt the 2012 IECC as their own code immediately and the city of Boston already has. Boston is now the largest jurisdiction in the country with the most forward-looking energy code.

At NBI, we and our partners are directing resources to support adoption of the 2012 IECC for commercial buildings by helping cities and states understand the benefits offered by the new model code to both the economy and the climate. We’re also working with utilities on ways they can incorporate the new requirements into their energy efficiency programs, which provide technical assistance and financial incentives, in order to encourage and accelerate adoption.

One way to look at the benefit of energy savings from the 2012 IECC is that it represents money not sent out of state or out of the country to pay for energy production. The money saved stays in local economies, where it’s desperately needed. And the expertise that local commercial building professionals develop while meeting the more energy-efficient code is a way to create good, local jobs.

We’ve adopted a model code that takes full advantage of our current capabilities for improving the energy performance of commercial buildings. Now it’s time for jurisdictions to do the work to make this model code a reality, giving us tremendous energy savings and a step forward on developing the low-carbon economy we need.

Dave Hewitt is the Executive Director of New Buildings Institute, a nonprofit organization working to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings.