The Louisville (Energy Codes) Saga

Nearly 35 years ago, the US Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Since then, every 3 years have seen an increase in building energy efficiency but now that may change. Although Congress wisely concluded back in 1992 that energy codes “can assure newly constructed buildings contain adequate energy conservation features”. At recent ICC Energy Code hearings in Louisville Kentucky, the Residential Energy Committee most likely voted for a measurable rollback in the efficiency of a national model code rather than an improvement.

The 1992 law included this language:

§ 6833. Updating State building energy efficiency codes
(a) Consideration and determination respecting residential building energy codes
(5)(A) Whenever CABO Model Energy Code, 1992, (or any successor of such code) is revised, the Secretary shall, not later than 12 months after such revision, determine whether such revision would improve energy efficiency in residential buildings.

At the recent hearings, members of the Committee voted for items to recreate a loophole in the 2018 Residential IECC to tradeoff HVAC equipment for base envelope measures, to decrease the stringency of the important HERS-like ERI, and to allow large tradeoffs of energy efficient features in the home if solar power is generated onsite, even if the homeowner doesn’t own the panels or doesn’t receive the green power from her roof. The Secretary of Energy may have no choice but to determine that the 2018 IECC Residential Code fails to improve energy use in homes.

These new gaping holes in the ICC energy code would change the intent of one of our country’s most important energy policy mechanisms. A rollback in energy codes was so unanticipated that the 1992 law didn’t even include instructions to the Department of Energy for what to do about “state energy code certifications” if the Secretary of Energy determined that a Residential Model Energy code did not increase in stringency.

Pay attention and get involved in the ICC Energy Code process because code officials will have the final vote this October on whether to accept these drastic changes. Good guidance on how to get involved in the process can be found at SWEEP’s recent blog here.

Jim Edelson, Director of Codes & Policy