Proving the Adage: The House Always Wins in Atlantic City

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Bill Fay
In a high-stakes debate to determine if energy efficient home construction is a real trend or a fleeting fad, local and state public officials from across the U.S. voted overwhelmingly for the former. Rejecting a withering campaign to roll back historic, 30% efficiency gains from the 2009 and 2012 versions of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the officials produced a 2015 IECC that is equivalent to or perhaps slightly more energy efficient than the 2012 version it updates.
The immediate winners from the dozens of votes they cast at the International Code Council’s October Public Comment Hearings are America’s homebuyers – who will continue to pocket tens of thousands of dollars in lifetime savings from lower energy bills and live in better quality homes that are more comfortable, quieter, and enjoy a higher resale value. 
But they aren’t alone: because America’s buildings use 71% of our electricity and 54% of our national gas, improving their efficiency will stabilize energy supply, power grids, and costs to Main Street businesses and even owners of existing homes.
The officials who gathered in Atlantic City represent state and local governmental members of the International Code Council, which facilitates a year-long process to update the IECC and 14 other model building codes every three years. Because most states then enact these “I-Code” updates into law, the ICC code development process literally impacts the safety, fire resistance, and energy efficiency of the lion’s share of America’s new homes and commercial buildings.
Two Decades of Nominal 1%-2% Efficiency Gains
Spark Creation of EECC
Twenty years of modest efficiency gains in the IECC prompted top energy efficiency experts and advocates to form the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition in 2007. After EECC’s initial 30% improvement for residential and commercial building efficiency was achieved in the combined 2009 and 2012 IECCs, EECC began to focus on defending those historic improvements and putting the IECC on a glide-path of dynamic building energy efficiency gains.
Rollback Proposals Dominate the Debate in Atlantic City
But while the successful campaigns of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition helped transform the national debate, they also energized opponents of efficient buildings. In advance of the Atlantic City hearings, builder trade associations and the wood industry opened their checkbooks, exploited seismic shifts in legislatures and governorships, bullied the U.S. Department of Energy, expanded their influence in the ICC, and engaged their substantial grassroots network in an all-out smear campaign against the IECC’s energy efficiency gains. 
ICC agreed to allow the National Association of Homebuilders to name four of the 11 voting seats on an important, newly created ICC Residential Energy Committee (REC), which makes recommendations to approve or disapprove each of the hundreds of proposals to update the residential chapter of the IECC. Previously, both residential and commercial building proposals were heard by the IECC Development Committee, on which NAHB typically named only one of 14 voting members. At this April’s hearings in Dallas, NAHB’s four votes changed the REC recommendation outcome on 24 proposals – all of which would have weakened the energy efficiency of the 2015 IECC.
RE-166:  The Granddaddy of Rollback Proposals
This proposal would have restored the equipment trade-off loophole from the 2006 IECC, reversing votes by code officials at the Final Action Hearings that produced both the 2009 and 2012 IECCs. Putting this loophole back in the code would have gone against current building codes in the 2/3 of the states that have adopted the 2009 or 2012 IECC and would have been the single biggest step backward in energy efficiency ever adopted into the model energy code. If RE-166 had passed, the 2015 IECC would have been the first IECC in history to be far weaker than its predecessor and would have allowed builders using the loophole to build homes that could have used up to 20%+ more energy than a home meeting the 2012 IECC.
Efficiency opponents were confident, but code officials showed little appetite for rollbacks. Following are the voting results for what EECC identified to be the worst residential proposals:
•      RE166 – Disapproved
•      RE11 – Disapproved
•      RE65 – Disapproved
•      RE90 – Disapproved
•      RE95 – Disapproved
8 Similar Proposals to Weaken Insulation:
•      RE26 – Disapproved
•      RE28 – Disapproved
•      RE32 – Disapproved
•      RE33 – Disapproved
•      RE34 – Disapproved
•      RE37 – Disapproved
•      RE38 – Disapproved
3 Proposals to Remove Glazing Backstop
•      RE165 – Disapproved
•      RE170 – Disapproved
•      RE181 – Disapproved
3 Unreasonable Fenestration Proposals
•      RE19 – Withdrawn
•      RE20 – Disapproved
•      RE22 – Disapproved
3 Proposals to Weaken Duct Leakage
•      RE116 – Disapproved
•      RE119 – Disapproved
•      RE120 – Disapproved
The results speak for themselves . . . The 2015 IECC represents the third straight three-year model energy code that embraces efficient construction.
Next Steps
We must now mount an orchestrated, nationwide advocacy campaign to promote the benefits of building energy codes, advance acceptance and adoption of the 2012 or 2015 IECC, and confront opponents of building efficiency.  That means:
· Reaching out to all code officials, not just those who will attend the ICC’s Public Comment Hearings.
· Working to reinvigorate and re-engage the U.S. Department of Energy.
· Employing more far-reaching avenues of communications and more resonant messaging to tell our story to a broader audience.  
· Convincing policymakers to protect homeowners and other beneficiaries of energy efficiency. The more policymakers know about the benefits of energy efficiency to a home’s quality, comfort, and operational affordability, the more they will recognize that the codes debate is about today’s homebuyers and homeowners.
· Making the consecutive efficiency gains embodied in the 2009, 2012, and 2015 IECCs the “RULE” and not the “EXCEPTION.”
· De-politicizing energy codes.  The IECC is in fact a product of state and local governmental members of the ICC. 

William Fay leads the broad-based based Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC). With over 28 years in the nation’s capital, Fay has organized, managed, and led several trade associations and national coalitions. He has a strong background in energy, environmental, transportation, tax and natural resource policy and regulation.
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