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There is significant change in the air. A host of codes is tuning up for the same chorus, and it’s all about energy efficiency.

But first things first.

The Code Alphabet

The International Code Council (ICC) is a membership association established in 1994 dedicated to building safety and fire prevention. ICC develops the codes and standards used to construct residential and commercial buildings, including homes and schools.

Fifty states and the District of Columbia have adopted the I-Codes at the state or jurisdictional level. Federal agencies including the architect of the Capitol, General Services Administration, National Park Service, Department of State, USDA Forest Service and the Veterans Administration also enforce the I-Codes.

The International Building Code (IBC) is a model building code developed by the ICC. It has been adopted throughout most of the United States.

The International Building Code applies to all structures in areas where it is adopted, except for one- and two-family dwellings, which are covered by the IRC.

The International Residential Code (IRC) is a comprehensive, stand-alone residential code developed by the ICC. It creates minimum regulations for one- and two-family dwellings of three stories or less. It brings together all building, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, energy and electrical provisions for one- and two-family residences. The IRC also provides a prescriptive approach (i.e., a set of measures) and a performance approach (i.e., energy modeling) for determining compliance.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is designed by the ICC to provide up-to-date energy conservation provisions for residential and commercial buildings. It addresses building envelope requirements for thermal performance and air leakage, as well as the installation of energy efficient mechanical, lighting and power systems.

The International Green Construction Code (IGCC) This, the new kid on the block—and subtitled “Safe and Sustainable: By the Book,” was launched by the ICC in 2009 as a model code focused on new and existing commercial buildings, addressing green building design and performance.

This code initiative has the support of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES).

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, founded in 1894, is an international organization with a mission to advance heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration that will serve humanity and promote a sustainable world through research, standards writing, publishing and continuing education.

ASHRAE publishes a well-recognized series of standards and guidelines relating to HVAC systems and issues. These standards are often referenced in building codes, and are considered useful standards for use by consulting engineers, mechanical contractors, architects, and government agencies. These are legally unenforceable, but commonly accepted, standards for architects and engineers.

The Department of Energy (DOE) of the United States government is currently working closely with the ICC, ASHRAE and other organizations to carry out its congressional mandate to improve building energy efficiency.

In fact, the DOE is required by the Energy Conservation and Production Act (ECPA) to participate in the ASHRAE Standard 90.1 development process, and to support the states in the adoption of new commercial energy codes. To support these requirements, DOE has been involved in the development of the new IECC requirements.

Energy Conservation

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, buildings account for almost half of the total annual U.S. energy consumption.

This is about to change, largely due to the upcoming “2012” version of the IECC for both residential and commercial buildings.

Of all of the above abbreviations, the one really to look out for—the one that may change your life, or at least they way you do business—is the IECC.

The IECC is published by the ICC and updated every three years through a public participation process. The 2009 IECC was completed in September 2008 and published in January 2009. However, due to an expedited schedule, the 2012 IECC will be completed in October 2010 and presumably published in early 2011.

The IECC is the de facto national model energy code. Versions of the IECC are now effective in more than 40 states and it alone (and not the IRC) is referenced in the U.S. Code (federal law), federal regulations, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and many other state and federal programs.

The IECC contains comprehensive provisions for all buildings, residential and commercial, and is often adopted by jurisdictions as a single comprehensive energy-efficient building code. The IECC is also reprinted in the International Building Code, substituting as its energy chapter.

In February 2009, ICC streamlined its I-Code Development Process, permanently eliminating IECC “supplements” (the next of which would have been adopted in May 2010) and moving the adoption of the 2012 IECC up from the fall of 2011 to fall of 2010.

Subsequently, the ICC closed its proposal window for 2012 code changes in June 2009. This was the first step of the 17-month process that is now set to culminate with the October 2010 ICC Final Action Hearings in Charlotte, N.C.

Once the new version of the IECC is published, a state or other code-setting jurisdiction has the option of adopting it in full, adopting it with amendments or taking no action at all.

However, since Congress has now linked the receipt of $3.1 billion of “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)” stimulus funding for State Energy Program grants to a recipient state’s adoption and enforcement of the 2009 IECC, chances are that most states will adopt the new version as well, possibly as early as next year.

Code Development Hearing

The ICC Code Development Committee met in Baltimore last October to consider proposed amendments to the 2009 IECC. Two significant changes were approved: EC-13 (Energy Code-13) as proposed by the DOE, and EC-147 sponsored by the DOE, AIA and the New Building Institute.

We are now in a Public Comment/Support period for these proposals, with a deadline of July 1, 2010. These proposals will then be ratified, or not, at the October hearings.

EC-13: Residential

With only one round of public comment and the Final Action Hearings to go, the DOE is coming close to realizing its goal to achieve a 2012 IECC that is 30 percent more stringent than the 2006 IECC.

EC-13 contains various energy efficiency improvements that, together with advances already accomplished in the 2009 IECC, achieve the lion’s share of DOE’s 30 percent goal. Combined with several other DOE-supported proposals submitted by others, also recommended for approval by the committee, the scales will likely tip past the 30 percent mark.

EC-13 addresses a number of building components and features, some of which are entirely new to the IECC. For example, under EC-13 the IECC would, for the first time, require pressure testing to make sure homes are properly air sealed. While prior versions of the code have required homes to be well sealed, there has never been an enforceable means to verify such sealing.

Also, the EC-13 proposal includes increased R-values in many thermal envelope assemblies, requires more efficient windows and skylights, and reduces allowable duct leakage rates.

It is important to know that EC-13 was adopted along with several other proposals made by the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC); among them are these:

EC-34: For better windows in warmer climates.

EC-35: Eliminating window efficiency exceptions.

EC-47: For improved thermal envelope efficiency in Climate Zones 3 and 4 (see chart below).

EC-48: For improved thermal envelope efficiency in Climate Zones 6, 7 and 8.

EC-50: For better foundation insulation in colder climates, and so improve the thermal envelope efficiency.

EC-147: Commercial

For commercial buildings, the IECC committee also recommended adoption of the comprehensive package EC-147, proposed by New Buildings Institute (NBI), DOE and the AIA, and based on NBI’s Core Energy Code.

EC-147, with similar energy efficiency objectives to EC-13, contains more than 20 different components, two of which are considered to be key contributors to major energy efficiency improvements.

The first of these is a cool-roof requirement for buildings in the Southern tier of the country. The cool-roof concept, which employs materials that are solar-reflective to reduce the need for cooling, is supported at the highest levels of DOE and shows promise as a significant building energy-saver.

The second component will result in a brand new section in the code, and offers designers and developers a choice of three different paths to increase efficiency:

• Use more efficient HVAC equipment.

• Implement a more efficient lighting system.

• Use renewable energy.

EC-147, together with the approved proposals EC-157 and EC-165, would result in energy efficiency gains in commercial buildings approaching 30 percent.

If the above proposals are upheld by the ICC Final Action Hearings in 2010—which they likely will be—they will near the 30 percent target included in legislation that has cleared both the House of Representatives and the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

What does this mean to you?

If the above two key proposals—EC-13 and EC-147, along with their sister proposals—are ratified this coming October, the new IECC will in effect mandate a 30 percent increase in both residential and commercial building energy efficiency over the 2006 IECC.

Since the IECC is already the de facto energy code for most states, and since federal money is now tied to the IECC being adopted at state level, we must assume that most state building codes will adopt the new 2012 IECC, with its very ambitious energy efficiency targets. Look for the IECC 2010 to become, in effect, the law of the land.

The Building Envelope

According to Don Smith, technical director for the Association of the Wall And Ceiling Industry, the scope and speed with which the IECC is now moving have a lot to do with the DOE believing our industry is not moving fast enough to cut energy waste.

Smith says, “I heard this comment directly from Ronald Majette, the department’s point man for building energy codes and author of the DOE EC-13: ‘If you, the industry, do not do something, we will.’

“And the one thing that might hurt not only us but other trades, too, is the DOE statement that, ‘We don’t care what you put on the outside of buildings; we want a continuous insulation all the way around that building.’

“The DOE message to the windows industry: ‘You have to reduce the size of the windows—they can’t be as big—and you have to go to triple-glazing.’

“The reason for the IECC activity—and the acceleration of the approval process—is that the DOE wants to see a 30 percent increase in building energy efficiency over the 2006 IECC. Now.”

Ronald Majette of the DOE, when asked about the impact of EC-13 and EC-147 on the building envelope, answered that, “Depending on climate location, minimum values of wall, floor or ceiling insulation will be required.”

However, he goes on to explain, “The code will not dictate precise methods, as long as you meet the required performance specifications for that type of building.”

EIFS. Exterior insulation and finish systems spring to mind as a good solution.

“Well,” Don Smith offers, “there are problems there, because when you increase insulation thickness, you change the characteristics of the insulation.

“Worst case scenario may be that in order to meet the proposed R-values, you will have to use 3 inches of polyiso, or 6 inches of EPS board. When you reach those dimensions, the plastic moves, so you no longer have a stable substrate.

“The other thing that happens when you start talking a continuous envelope, is that stucco has never had insulation behind it; it’s always been in the wall. So, now what do you do?

“If you first have to put an inch and a half of EPS board on the wall, it means you now have a fastener holding that lath that’s an inch and a half longer than before, so your nail now has an inch-and-a-half movement-arm supporting about 17 pounds a square foot of stucco.

“That’s untested, and we’re not sure how it will work.

“Our members must be aware of potential problems coming down the pike with IECC 2012.

“My biggest concern with this whole thing is a potential loss of somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 jobs should the stucco industry take a major hit by this. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.”

ICF. Insulated Concrete Forms might be the dark horse in this scenario. With proven structural R-values of R-38 or better—primarily due to the air-tight design of the envelope—it already meets any requirement now on the IECC horizon, and likely already meets any future energy efficiency requirements over the next decade or two.

Paul Tomazon of Titan Walls, an ICF expert, agrees: “The fact that they will now not only mandate but also test air infiltration, will definitely benefit us. ICF is probably the most airtight envelope on the market.

“Also—and this has been substantiated by testing—in order to match ICF’s energy efficiency in a block house or a framed house, due to potential air infiltration, you’d have to insulate it up to an R-50. That, in practical terms, means 10 or 11 inches of insulation.”

“I also see an ICF advantage in that the cost of the other building methods is likely to increase to meet code requirements, while we are already there. This will make our products and pricing that much more competitive.”

2012 IECC

Granted, the 2012 IECC code is not official yet, so we do not know precisely what energy efficiencies (R-values) will be mandated. But we do know that a 30 percent increase over the 2006 IECC stands a very good chance of ratification, and that would have repercussions that no one in our industry can afford to ignore.

Heads up!

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

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