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2012 IECC Code Requirements: Who Wins? Who Loses?

Late in October 2010, local and state building code officials approved a package of revisions to both the residential and commercial sections of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code that represented the largest single-step energy efficiency increase in the history of the national model energy code.

These adopted changes mean that new and renovated buildings constructed in jurisdictions that follow the 2012 IECC will be designed to use 30 percent less energy than those built to current standards, which, by and large, are assumed to tow the IECC 2006 line.

Final Action Hearings

The final action hearings in Charlotte, N.C., were in fact dominated by changes to the IECC and related energy conservation requirements in the International Residential Code.

The two proposed and approved code changes that most affect our readers and members of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry were these:

• Proposed code change EC13—a comprehensive set of changes to the residential energy conservation provisions of both the IECC and the IRC, including measures to improve the thermal envelope, HVAC systems and electrical systems of residential buildings up to three stories in height.

• Proposed code change EC147—a similarly comprehensive set of changes to the commercial portion of the code, including required energy savings for windows, doors and skylights; thermal envelope efficiency

While the 2012 IECC has now won final approval, keep in mind that it will have no legal significance until adopted and enforced by individual states and/or local jurisdictions.

It is also worth noting that many states have only recently adopted the prior version of the IECC (2009 IECC) but are expected to adopt the 2012 version over the next several years. As a rule, states vary widely with regard to these time frames.

Residential Buildings. The residential efficiency improvements in the 2012 IECC will affect nearly every aspect of home construction—including a better thermal envelope (windows, insulation, etc.); less duct leakage in HVAC distribution systems; tighter thermal envelopes from improved air barriers and sealing; and insulated hot water piping.

The key component here is the improved thermal envelope, where the new IECC requirements specify the following R-values per climate zone.

Commercial Buildings.

• The barrier can be placed either inside or outside the building envelope, within the assemblies composing the envelope, or can constitute any combination thereof.

• The barrier must be continuous for all assemblies making up the thermal envelope and across joints of assemblies.

• Joints and seams must be sealed.

• Where objects are installed that penetrate the air barrier
(like stucco nails/fasteners), air barrier integrity must be maintained.

Materials used must meet specific air permeance requirements (ASTM E2178).

Projected Benefits

The Alliance to Save Energy estimates the following annual savings in the residential and commercial sectors as a theoretical potential if all states were to adopt the 2012 IECC in 2012 and achieved full compliance by 2013:

• More than 3.5 quadrillion Btu annual source energy savings by 2030.

• About $40 billion (real 2008 dollars) annual energy cost savings for consumers and businesses by 2030.

• About 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided annually by 2030.

These estimates assume savings from all buildings covered by the code, including new residential and commercial construction, major renovations and additions.

To determine accurately the amount of energy used by a building, the normal site energy measure (energy directly consumed at a facility and typically measured with utility meters) has been replaced by the more accurate measure of source energy.

Source energy is the sum of the energy consumed at a facility including the energy required to extract, convert and transmit that energy to the facility.

The source energy for electricity from hydroelectric power, solar energy and wind is assumed to be equal to the electricity produced at the source. Added to that are energy costs, such as distribution losses incurred in delivering the electricity to the facility. Source energy for electricity from on-site thermal electric power plants fueled by geothermal and biomass is determined by assuming an efficiency of 33 percent for electricity production.

In other words, source energy is a better measure than site energy of the overall environmental impact of the building, and is usually stated in annual Btu consumption.

The Alliance to Save Energy predicts significant source energy savings in both the residential and commercial sectors, both for new construction and in additions and renovations.

But these are optimistic numbers, which are projected to improve further with the 2015 IECC, already rumored to mandate energy savings of 50 percent over the 2006 IECC, for they do assume an almost instant compliance with the 2012 IECC requirements by states and municipalities—an assumption far from given.

The federal government tied state compliance with the 2009 IECC requirements to the granting and release of bail-out funds, which naturally sped up the implementation of that version of the energy code. No such stick or carrot is (yet) in place for the 2012 IECC, which will most likely make for a slower adaptation of the code.

In fact, some states—Texas, for one—have already announced their intentions not to implement the 2012 IECC mandates.

Winners and Losers

In the long term, the goal of the United States is to cut energy imports and eventually to achieve energy self-reliance.

Once reached, such an achievement will naturally benefit not only most aspects of our industry, but each of us individually as well. Therefore, anything that forwards and contributes to that goal—such as more energy efficient buildings—will, of course, be of commensurate benefit.

But that is long term, and very much on paper. In the shorter term, things look different, with some areas of our industry set to benefit more than others from these stringent energy efficiency standards.

Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems. A little recognized fact is that even though the United States is looking to increase energy efficiency by 30 percent, or even 50 percent in the 2015 code, these goals still lag behind the energy efficiency standards already in place in Europe.

The reason for this is easy to grasp: Even at today’s fuel prices, we pay only a fraction of what they do (and have for decades) to power their buildings.

As a result, European countries have had to design and build highly energy efficient buildings long before we even considered such things, and EIFS has been part of that European energy efficiency movement from the beginning.

EIFS, in other words, is a product that adapts very well to increased insulation and a continuous air barrier, and that could be poised to gain major market share as the IECC 2012 gains acceptance.

Chuck Taylor, director of operations at Englewood Construction in Illinois, agrees with that assessment: “I believe the new code requirements will be a huge boost for EIF systems, especially in places like the city of Chicago, where it is currently, while not forbidden, still—due to the early troubles—frowned upon.”

Roy Glisson, president of All Wall Contracting in Idaho, agrees: “I have always believed that EIFS will become more prevalent as the cost of energy continues to climb.”

Gary Dillman, owner of Titan Walls in Florida, says, “When done properly, EIFS is a great product. We’re in a 20-year old EIFS building, and we’ve never had a problem.”

Charles Antone of R.J. Kenney & Associates in Massachusetts also sees an EIFS opportunity here “for thermal performance.” He then goes on to say, “I hope these new standards will spawn the idea that we need better construction, better quality and better quality control. We need to bring our buildings up to European energy efficiency standards.”

Mike Heering, president of F.L. Crane & Sons in Mississippi, also weighs in on the side of EIFS: “I think this will be a big break for the EIFS industry, as long as the manufacturers ensure that their products are installed properly and by competent EIFSmart contractors. If the EIFS market opens up because of these regulations and there is no control as to who installs the product, we will head for the same disastrous water infiltration issues we had a few years ago.”

Bryce Brandon, EIFS Market Manager at Sto Corp. in Atlanta, does not disagree: “The new energy codes will give EIFS a big boost over the next five or so years, especially since EIFS is a proven simple and cost-effective solution for combining continuous insulation with a waterproof air barrier in one-cladding systems.

“EIFS is also well positioned for the long term since you can easily add more insulation as needed—most EIFS manufacturers can go up to 12 inches of expanded polystyrene in their systems—to further increase energy efficiency.

“EIFS is also very light-weight, which makes it the perfect solution for the renovation of older buildings. In many cases you can simply put EIFS over the existing cladding (like brick or stone), and you now have an energy efficient building with a brand new look.”

Gabriel Castillo of Pillar Construction in Virginia sums it up: “The better air and moisture barrier, the exterior continuous insulation and light-weight exterior cladding called for in the new code has one name written all over: EIFS.

“I don’t know why our architects don’t see that here is a system with many years of proven benefits, or notice that European architects routinely come up with interesting façades and elegant buildings using EIFS while here in America we can only do Best Buys and Wal-Marts. EIF systems have the looks, the technology, and have, over the years, silently provided the ratings and performance that IECC-2012/ASHRAE-2010 is now trying to promulgate.”

Insulating Concrete Form. Another product that should be poised to cash in on the new energy efficiency requirements is ICF. Even today, the product mostly meets or exceeds the R-values called for in the code, and as such should be a leading contender for any project built to the new standards, especially in the residential area.

But in the ICF market, however, there may not be efficient controls in place to monitor who installs ICF or how well-trained they are at such installations.

Gary Dillman, whose Titan Walls specializes in ICF, believes “we will see more ICF as a result of the new regulations” He says he is already see more drawings calling for it.

“However,” he adds, “the ICF market is a little like the EIFS market used to be—not many are doing it well. As with everything else, if you’re looking to make a quick buck, you’re not too concerned about the long-term impact of your job, and that’s the case with the untrained ICF installer. But when you take the long-term view, as we always do, and install ICF properly, it is a great product.”

Brandon agrees: “ICF will definitely benefit from the stricter energy codes, since they also provide a cladding with continuous insulation. By the way, EIFS is actually a great exterior cladding for ICF construction.”

Stucco. The jury is still out on stucco. Manufacturers and associations alike are trying to determine the best way to install stucco outside an insulation layer that can be as thick as 4 inches.

Don Smith, AWCI’s director of technical services, is well aware of the challenge facing stucco. “In fact,” he says, “we’re right now in the process of setting up some test panels for stucco to determine the best way to secure it outside a thicker insulation layer. That way we can determine, and advise, on the best accessories, such as fasteners, to make it work.”

Walter Scarborough, a Dallas-based architect, is also well aware of the stucco challenge: “With the more efficient envelope, EIFS will be fine, but stucco will have to come up with a different way of application. They might need intermediate support between the insulation and the stucco itself, perhaps horizontal Z-clips.”

Heering adds, “I believe stucco will do alright once the testing on how best to install it over exterior foam insulation is complete. Some problems I see are that the pins used to hold the lath in place will have to penetrate the foam insulation while still being able to take the added weight of the wet stucco that may now be 4 inches away from the substrate it’s attached to.”

Brandon says, “Stucco will definitely have its challenges. Continuous insulation can certainly be added into the stucco wall assembly, but the system becomes very complex to build, especially when you get to the construction details.

“And when it comes to the air barrier, which must be continuous, there are literally thousands of penetrations from the fasteners that attach the lath to the framing, which have to be properly sealed one at a time.”

The consensus is that stucco will not go away, but that the installation details have to be worked out and tested, and stucco installers will then need to be trained on the new installation procedures before that part of our industry returns to normal.

Other Winners and Losers. Heering has a great take on the long-term winners: “I think the long-term winners will be those contractors who look at this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

“We have already started spraying foam insulation in the wall cavity, which will offer a higher R-value to the exterior walls. We have become ABAA (Air Barrier Association of America) certified, allowing us the training and certification to apply continuous air barriers to the exterior of buildings.”

Also, as Dillman points out, “The manufacturers will be winners here, since they will sell more products, and the owners will be winners since they will wind up with better buildings.”

Sto’s Brandon sees this it this way: “The new energy codes will be a win-win on many levels. Buildings consume 48 percent of the energy used in the United States, so improving the energy efficiency of buildings will have a huge impact on reducing the country’s future energy needs.

“I also believe we will see a huge amount of innovation in the building industry as manufacturers race to bring new products and technologies to market that will help the building community meet these new stricter energy requirements.”

Final Advice

AWCI’s Smith offers some advice: “Get involved with the code bodies at your local level. Every state and most municipalities have code councils. Join them, and provide your input. Of course, this will also keep you up-to-date on your local code requirements.”

Antone suggests, “For many contractors, this will involve new products to learn how to install. Get invited to lunch by the local salesman, have him explain and show how to bid and install it.

“Also, use these stricter requirements to your advantage. If an architect has missed the stricter code on the plan, offer it as an alternate. This will make you shine compared to your competition.”

The Future

The world’s major energy sources are very much finite and are dwindling by the day. The cost of energy will only rise. Our best response—apart from developing renewable sources or energy—is to grow very frugal as energy consumers.

Embrace this energy efficiency movement. It is here to stay.

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho–based Ulf Wolf writes for the construction industry as Words & Images.

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