New Conservation Code Needs More Work

December 2009

Most, if not all, of you labor under the International Building Code or some local variation thereof. Did you realize that another code is coming online that will have just as dramatic an effect on your operations as the IBC? While the International Energy Conservation Code is not new, it is undergoing some changes. The primary change is a targeted reduction of 30 percent in energy consumption from the current edition of the IECC. How does this affect you?

Before I answer that question, let me give you a little background on how we arrived at this juncture. There is an energy bill rolling around Congress that contains a mandate to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent. As this article was going to press, the bill had not cleared the conference committee, and there is no apparent target date in sight. This is not surprising considering the work that Congress has on its plate right now. The passage of this bill notwithstanding, the Department of Energy has publicly stated that it is working under the proposed bill and is busy implementing the changes in the IECC required to reach the targeted goal. This work was very clear in the recent code hearings, which I attended in Baltimore during the last week of October.

The IECC deals with all aspects of a building when it comes to energy. However, it seems to me that most of the effort to achieve the 30 percent reduction revolves increasing the thickness of insulation on the exterior of the building. The IECC will require uninterrupted insulation with a "U” factor determined by the locale of the building. This band of insulation cannot contain any thermal shorts other than those caused by the fasteners securing the insulation to the substrate. Actually, that’s not a bad idea; however, the overall thickness under the proposed table indicates that the total thickness of the insulation, if it is polyisocyanurate, will be approximately 3 inches thick. If the insulation material is EPS board, the thickness will approach 6 inches. Bear in mind that this insulation is outboard of the framing. Take a minute and visualize this condition. Now do you have a clear picture of what this means?

Let’s take a look at some instances that will have an effect on stucco installations, specifically three coat work on metal lath. We currently depend on the insulation in the wall cavity to provide the required insulation for the exterior envelope. While I have been told that there are contractors on the West Coast placing insulation into the three coat system, I have not seen any details indicating how this is accomplished. I have, in fact, seen some attempts at introducing insulation into the system, but I had to question the validity of the detail. The particular detail used "Z” channels to support the insulation as well as providing a fastening point for the metal lath. (If you want more detail, I discussed this in a previous column.) The detail would not work under the new IECC because of the thermal short created by the "Z” channel. Another problem caused by the introduction of insulation into the stucco system is the lack of fire-rated assemblies for exterior walls that contain insulation. This is a big problem for California, where fire-rated exterior walls are commonly used in multifamily construction.

We as an industry certainly support whole-heartedly the idea of conserving energy. We also are in support of preserving jobs at the same time. According to the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association, they have approximately 18,000 members. Seventy-five percent of the individuals are engaged in stucco work. While I do not have specific numbers for the non-union shops, I can’t help but believe that the numbers are at least the same as the union. When you look at the total number, that’s a lot of jobs at stake if we can’t find a way to bring stucco systems in line with the requirements of the IECC.

So where do we go from here? The recent code hearings were the first round of hearings. The second and final rounds that will approve the changes to the 2012 edition of the IECC will be held next year. We along with other groups affected by this change will be getting together to determine a direction and the best strategy to take to influence the changes. We will be coming to the membership of AWCI for input and support. While this can be viewed as a technical problem, it is very much an economical problem as well. Stay tuned for further updates and requests for support in the coming months.

Donald E. Smith, CCS, is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to smith@awci.org or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.