Next Generation Energy Codes Finalized

Dec. 2, 2010
How will the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code impact you?

The most sweeping changes ever made to model building codes will be included in the 2012 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The modifications, approved at International Code Council (ICC) hearings in October, will result in a whopping 25-30% increase in energy efficiency over earlier code editions.

ICC governmental members voted on hundreds of proposals during the hearings, many with far-reaching impacts for the commercial real estate industry. Proposals to modify the entire IECC commercial section to achieve approximately 25% efficiency gains over the 2006 code were submitted by a coalition of groups pushing the so-called "30% Solution." Led by the DOE, the New Buildings Institute, and the AIA, primary support for these proposals was also provided by the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition – a group of product manufacturers and non-profit organizations primarily focused on building energy issues.

While these proposals were in large measure approved during the hearing, BOMA International’s code advocacy team was successful in securing concessions to eliminate major concerns for the commercial real estate industry, including:

  • Withdrawal of a DOE proposal that would have mandated installation of renewable energy systems on all existing commercial buildings.
  • Defeat of a proposal to require permits and inspections for replacement of more than 10% of the lighting fixtures in existing buildings.
  • Reductions in several additional building envelope insulation and window provisions.
  • Modifications to stringent glazing requirements benefiting the vast majority of commercial buildings to maintain the 40% window-to-wall ratio baseline for envelope insulation requirement calculations currently in the IECC.
  • Alternatives to mandatory renewable energy system requirements for all new buildings.

Some proposals that carry negative impacts for commercial real estate were approved, as was widely anticipated. Among those were changes to the administrative chapter of the code to define the useful life of many energy efficiency measures, such as building insulation, as the "life of the structure," which is currently calculated at 50-plus years. This would virtually eliminate any rational cost/benefit calculation for these measures, making project financing and long-term project viability decisions much more difficult or even impossible. One bit of good news is that the administrative provisions are the most widely modified requirements when the IECC is adopted at the state and local level, and BOMA will work with allies throughout the country to eliminate this language during the implementation of the code.

Industry proposals to allow credit for more efficient HVAC equipment to mitigate costly building envelope requirements were also disallowed. The result is that in the 2012 IECC, no credits will be allowed for installing more efficient equipment in either the prescriptive or the performance compliance paths, making code compliance much more costly going forward.

While the quest to achieve a target level of energy efficiency gains was clearly the driving factor in the overwhelming number of decisions made during the ICC hearings, the cost impacts of those decisions got much less attention. Repeated attempts by BOMA and others to highlight the excessive costs represented by many proposals were met with what seemed to be almost programmed opposition. Not surprisingly, the involvement of product manufacturers and groups representing product and service providers poised to reap significant market advantages from the "30% Solution" proposals greatly contributed to the approval of these measures.

Perhaps the greatest concern was expressed about the impact of direct financial contributions to the outcome of the hearings – specifically, financial assistance provided to ICC voting members to attend the hearings in support of the more stringent code provisions. These concerns have been brought to the attention of an Ad Hoc Committee developing recommendations for improving the ICC code development process as well as to the ICC Board of Directors. Although it is unclear at this time what steps may be taken to address these concerns, efforts to greatly reduce the influence of those with a financial interest in the outcome of the code development process will certainly continue.

BOMA’s code advocacy team also worked closely with the National Association of Home Builders and the National Multi Housing Council to represent the interests of owners, developers, and managers of multi-unit residential and mixed-use projects. Despite those efforts, significant modifications to increase the stringency of the IECC for these buildings by an average of 30% were approved.

The full economic impact of these historic changes to the national model baseline energy code will be substantial and will surely make the adoption of the 2012 IECC at the state and local levels much more contentious. Fierce opposition to these provisions by powerful local single- and multi-family builder groups is virtually assured. Coupled with concerns by municipal officials about potential negative impacts on the fragile construction industry recovery in their area, that could result in acceptance of this code by far fewer state and local governments than would otherwise be anticipated.

Ron Burton is vice president for Codes, Standards & Regulatory Affairs with BOMA International. He can be reached at [email protected].


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