Votes Matter for Better Buildings

Building code officials, sustainability officers, builders, efficiency advocates and others are leaving Las Vegas after attending the International Code Council’s (ICC) annual conference and public comment hearings on the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Updated every three years, the IECC sets minimum energy efficiency standards for commercial and residential buildings.

Updating the code requires a lengthy process, including proposal submission, committee votes, public comments, public hearings, and finally electronic voting—set to take place in two weeks. During that time, registered voting members of the ICC will be able to cast their ballots for the efficiency measures they want to be adopted into the 2021 version of the IECC. These measures will impact how new buildings perform for decades to come.

Why is my vote important?

Votes matter and are one of the most profound ways states and local governments can improve the comfort and health of residents, reduce costs and energy burden for building owners and tenants, and make progress toward climate action goals. The figure below shows the progression of efficiency stringency in the IECC since 1980. Cycles of no or little improvement have resulted in the code not staying current with best practice design and construction standards for high-performance buildings. Voting is one of the best opportunities registered ICC members have to improve the performance of buildings and meet their energy and carbon reduction goals.

Learn more about the top efficiency proposals for the 2021 IECC update

Join us for an interactive webinar, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 9:30-11:00 a.m. Pacific Standard time (12:30-2:00 p.m. Eastern) to learn how the 2021 IECC voting process works, and access resources to help guide you along the way. During this 90-minute webinar, experts from New Buildings Institute (NBI) will explain how to interpret the 2021 IECC Top Proposals and Voters Guides. We will highlight the most important energy efficiency and climate proposals — those that have the greatest potential to reduce energy use and carbon emissions in residential and commercial buildings by at least 10%.

Top proposals to consider

As the IECC hearings wrap up today, NBI is working with national partners to identify our list of Top Proposals to help eligible voters prioritize the energy efficiency and climate proposals that stand to have the greatest impact. In the meantime, here are some of the important proposal themes emerging in that list. For actual proposal language, visit our 2021 IECC development page.

Zero-Energy Buildings (RE 223 and CE 21). On RE 223, NBI and the Natural Resources Defense Council collaborated on a proposal to create a new, optional appendix for local code adoption that would result in zero energy residential buildings, which over the course of a year would produce as much energy as they consume. This would be achieved through a mix of aggressive yet achievable levels of energy efficiency combined with renewable energy like rooftop solar panels. While this proposal had robust support from the efficiency community, code officials, the solar industry, manufacturers, and others, it failed the technical committee by one vote in the spring. But we’ve made some important changes through the public comment process to address the concerns raised by a few committee members, including allowing credit for community renewable energy, leasing, and purchasing agreements. Having a ready-made option to adopt clear code language that will require zero energy performance in new homes is critical to making them more energy efficient in a way that can be consistent across jurisdictions and ease the path for builders, code officials and homebuyers. In addition, CE 21 refines the definition of biomass energy storage to limit sources to those that meet specifications as waste products.

Flexibility for the Future (CE 218 and RE 209). As energy codes continue to advance, the need for flexibility is becoming increasingly important.  Many potential requirements are very effective—but only in some climate zones, building types or building designs. Flexibility and points options provide a solution. By including multiple options that may be highly effective in some situations but not in others, the code can lead to increasing energy efficiency while providing builders flexibility to choose the path to efficiency that works best for each individual project. Proposals such as CE 218 and RE 209 advance the flexibility of both the commercial and residential parts of the energy code and provide a mechanism that make it easy for jurisdictions that want to further efficiency in codes.

Ready and Resilient (CE 262). Renewable energy and battery storage are assuming a larger and larger place in both the current building market and goals for the sustainability of buildings in the future. Ready and Resilient proposals augment the code to ensure buildings are ready for a future of greater resiliency, battery storage and renewables. They update existing requirements and definitions to align them with current market and policy trends, and introduce new requirements to ensure buildings built today can adapt to resiliency and zero energy goals in the future.

Electric Vehicles (CE217 Parts I and II). As electric vehicles (EVs) grow in popularity, codes addressing them will become essential. The EV proposals require new buildings make a certain percentage of its parking spaces ready for electric vehicles by including electrical infrastructure. Given a building’s long lifetime, it’s almost guaranteed that adopting this proposal into the model code will increase demand for EV charging. It fits squarely into the policies necessary to advance EV adoption and infrastructure.

Horticultural Lighting (CE 209). CE 209 improves building efficiency by closing a loophole in the IECC that exempts lighting for plant growth. As written, the 2018 IECC leaves lighting used for energy intensive and rapidly growing indoor horticulture lighting completely exempt from efficiency requirements. The new metric was developed in collaboration with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers specifically for lighting used for plant growth and can be met with LED lighting.

The National Home Builders Association and the ICC

A recent New York Times article reported on an agreement between the ICC and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) that could disproportionately sway the development of the IECC. This model code directly impacts the nation’s ability to achieve energy efficiency in the building sector, and it is critical that the process of developing the IECC is fair, transparent and not subject to undue influence. NBI is monitoring this story as details unfold and is asking the ICC to respond to the New York Times article in a manner that upholds the highest level of credibility and legitimacy for the IECC.

Voting members should not be discouraged or allow this recent report to prevent them from voting on the 2021 IECC update in two weeks. The 2021 IECC update is one of the best ways to directly influence building performance and greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Voting matters.

Have questions? Feel free to reach out to Amy Cortese, NBI Director of Programs, at [email protected].