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Change Overhead: New Provisions and Opportunities for Reroofs in 2015 IECC

PHOTO CREDIT: Butler Manufacturing and Chip Allen Photography

Many building owners don’t realize that their roof systems can be energy assets. They underestimate the potential for savings — in energy and dollars – that lies within existing roofs. The Center for Environmental Innovation estimates there are 50 billion square feet of commercial roofing systems available for retrofit.

It is important to meet energy code requirements during roof retrofits. Provisions in the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) — the foundation of state codes — require that when existing roofs are removed or replaced, insulation levels comply with the requirements for new construction. As this provision goes into effect, building owners can expect more stringent enforcement, however, the requirement for increased insulation also presents an opportunity to increase facility energy efficiency.

What these provisions mean for building owners

In previous versions of the IECC, provisions for reroofs were vague and left open to interpretation, which caused confusion for code officials, roofing contractors and building owners; they often faced different evaluations of code depending on code official interpretation. Definitions for reroofs, roof recovers and roof replacements in the IECC varied from the International Building Code and ASHRAE 90.1, adding to this confusion.

All of that changes with the new 2015 IECC provisions.  The new definitions are clearly explained, removing room for opinion or interpretation by code officials who could misclassify roof repairs — possibly resulting in improper installations and costly corrective actions. 

The 2015 IECC includes straightforward definitions for repairs, recovers and replacements.

  • Reroofs: The process of recovering or replacing an existing roof covering. See “roof recover” and “roof replacement.”
  • Roof recover: The process of installing any additional roof covering over a prepared existing roof covering without removing the existing roof covering.
  • Roof replacement: The process of removing the existing roof covering, repairing any damaged substrate and installing a new roof covering.

By establishing definitions for repairs, recovers and replacements, it will be clear that any reroofing project will be subject to the same thermal-insulation requirements as new construction projects.

So why is that beneficial? For one, the provisions are much easier to interpret and enforce. With a clear understanding of the intent, there should be consistency in code enforcement. Second, it is simpler for building owners and roofing contractors to perform repairs, recovers, and replacements knowing whether energy-efficient upgrades are required. The clarity achieved within the new provisional language mitigates the risk of contractors getting into situations where expensive upgrades are required when a simple repair is all that is necessary.

Untapped savings for building owners

Ensuring code compliance can save billions of dollars in energy costs, reducing the need for costly infrastructure to meet peak energy demands. That said, because utility costs vary from state to state, it’s difficult to give a blanket dollar amount each building owner could expect to save on energy costs. What is known, however, is that every dollar spent on energy code compliance and enforcement yields $6 in energy savings, and reroofing for compliance with IECC can contribute to these overall building cost savings. This concept of total building operating cost should be critically considered during any new build or retrofit design process.

Upgrading insulation levels in existing structures can be challenging. However, the advantage of adding insulation during reroofs provides improved thermal efficiency with lower incremental costs. Ask your roofing provider if they have access to programs that can help calculate the energy savings of building components, including wall and roof systems. This information can be used not only to ensure energy code compliance but also to provide a comparative estimate of the components’ life cycle operating costs over a five- or 10-year period. Such information also can guide building owners’ decisions to look beyond initial costs when selecting a roof system.

Consistency solidifies opportunity

Roof retrofits, whether they are a recover or replacement project are an optimum way to reduce a building’s energy use and expense. The updated 2015 IECC provisions provide clarity and uniformity to the process, ensuring that money and time are well spent.

Rodger Russ is the North American sales manager for the roof division of Butler Manufacturing, reach him at: raruss@butlermfg.com.

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