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Keeping Up With the Codes

These days, the construction industry has two deadlines hanging over it: October 18, 2013, and May 17, 2014.

October 18, 2013

As for the Oct. 18 deadline, the Department of Energy has declared it to be the date by which the states have to comply with the new ASHRAE 90.1-2010 energy efficiency code.

DOE ASHRAE 90.1-2010 Determination

Specifically, in its Federal Register Volume 76 Number 202, the DOE stipulates as follows:

Summary: The Department of Energy (DOE or Department) has determined that the 2010 edition of the Energy Standard for Buildings, Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) Standard 90.1–2010, (Standard 90.1–2010 or the 2010 edition) would achieve greater energy efficiency in buildings subject to the code, than the 2007 edition (Standard 90.1–2007 or the 2007 edition).

Also, DOE has determined that the quantitative analysis of the energy consumption of buildings built to Standard 90.1–2010, as compared with buildings built to Standard 90.1–2007, indicates national source energy savings of approximately 18.2 percent of commercial building energy consumption.

Additionally, DOE has determined site energy savings are estimated to be approximately 18.5 percent. Upon publication of this affirmative final determination, States are required to certify that they have reviewed the provisions of their commercial building code regarding energy efficiency, and as necessary, updated their code to meet or exceed Standard 90.1–2010. Additionally, this notice provides guidance to States on Certifications, and Requests for Extensions of Deadlines for Certification Statements.

Dates: Certification statements by the states must be provided by Oct. 18, 2013.

Or else? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

May 17, 2014

As for the May 17, 2014, deadline, the DOE has stipulated the states have to comply with the new IECC 2012 energy efficiency code.

DOE IECC 2012 Determination

In its Federal Register Volume 77 Number 96, the Department of Energy stipulates as follows:

Summary: The Department of Energy (DOE or Department) has determined that the 2012 edition of the International Code Council (ICC) International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) (2012 IECC or 2012 edition) would achieve greater energy efficiency in low-rise residential buildings than the 2009 IECC. Upon publication of this affirmative final determination, States are required to file certification statements to DOE that they have reviewed the provisions of their residential building code regarding energy efficiency and made a determination as to whether to update their code to meet or exceed the 2012 IECC. Additionally, this Notice provides guidance to States on how the codes have changed from previous versions, and the certification process.

Dates: Certification Statements by the States must be provided by May 17, 2014.

Or else? Again, that’s the question.

And while we’re asking questions of the DOE: Will compliance with IECC 2012—which is largely based on and incorporates the standards set forth in ASHRAE 90.1-2010—satisfy the DOE as complying with ASHRAE 90.1-2010?

Does It Have Teeth?

What happens if the states neither submit their Certification Statement, nor file for an extension, by the Oct. 18, 2013, deadline (ASHRAE) or May 17, 2014 (IECC)?

We’re asking because during the implementation of the 2009 IECC, the DOE tied state compliance with the new code requirements to granting and release of bail-out funds, which provided sizeable incentive to the states and naturally sped up the implementation of that version of the energy code.

No such carrot, however, has been or is likely to be announced for the 2012 IECC implementation. And so, we wonder: are there any teeth to these deadlines?

No. Mainly gums.

Pam Cole at the DOE clarified: “The Secretary of Energy has the authority to consider actions taken toward compliance with this statute when deciding whether or not to give incentive funding to the state. At this point, DOE only has plans to publish a report that will be made available to the public regarding compliance with the statue [emphasis added]. The report will also include savings lost for non-compliance.”

The logic here might be that no punishment could be greater than to miss out on the considerable energy-efficiency savings to be had by either code implementation—and no reward greater than to reap those benefits by compliance.

While there is something to be said for this logic, it is rather toothless.


As for the second question, Cole confirmed that compliance with IECC 2012 will, indeed, count as compliance with ASHRAE 90.1-2010.

Given, then, a rather lax DOE enforcement climate, where do the states stand when it comes to implementing these energy codes?

Again, the DOE supplies excellent information.

Projected State Compliance

Based on current compliance status and progress reports, Table 3 (below) depicts the DOE’s Projected Commercial Building Energy Code Adoption.

Note that the majority of states are predicted to remain with ASHRAE 90.1-2007/IECC 2009 for the foreseeable future, while 10 additional states are expected to implement ASHRAE 90.1-2010/IECC 2012 codes by 2015.

As with the commercial codes, the DOE predicts that a majority of states will remain with IECC 2009 for the foreseeable future, and that the same 10 states are expected to have implemented IECC 2012 by 2015.

We checked in with some industry experts.

Why the Delay?

What would slow down state implementation of the new codes?

Lee G. Jones, technical director for the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, says, “If there’s no real carrot and no real stick, why bother? And from a business standpoint, if it costs more to comply than not to comply, well, there’s a business decision to be made, and the states will most likely—to save money—not comply, or drag their feet. The states will comply when it will cost them more not to comply—it’s just math. I doubt if government regulators give much thought to the business aspect of things. I don’t think they reason in terms of profit or loss—that’s not the way the government thinks.

“Now, there are companies out there who are doing a lot of government work and who are looking for more of that, and I am sure they will prepare and be up to speed on the new requirements to be in a good position when or if the jobs specify IECC 2012 standards. However, don’t forget that it’s the architects who specify the standards for a given project, the contractor simply builds according to those plans.”

Steve Pedracine, executive director at the Minnesota Lath & Plaster Bureau, says, “I believe that the main implementation slowdown, for us, is that the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is strapped for personnel and just don’t have the manpower to follow through.

“Of course, there’s a lot to acceptance of a federal code. State advisory committees will go through the new requirements with a fine-tooth comb and come up with amendments as needed. It takes time—it’s a very bureaucratic process, and bureaucratic processes are never fast. I believe that, today, both the ASHRAE and IECC codes are on a curve to meet the challenges posed by Architecture 2030 and by federal energy conservation goals.”

Architecture 2030, a non-profit, non-partisan and independent organization, was established in response to the climate change crisis by architect Edward Mazria in 2002. Its mission is to transform rapidly the U.S. and global Building Sector from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate change, energy consumption, and economic crises. Its goal is straightforward: to achieve a dramatic reduction in the climate-change-causing greenhouse gas emissions of the Building Sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed.

“At this point,” Pedracine continues, “neither IECC 2012 nor the anticipated IECC 2015 come close to the Architecture 2030 goals, but they’re approaching them.”

Scott Robinson at the EIFS Industry Members Association says, “As with any IRC and IECC in the past, the issue is always: How much is it going to cost to implement? Does it make financial sense for the state to comply? If, at this point, it would make financial sense for states to comply, they would; if it doesn’t make financial sense, they probably won’t.”

Todd E. Watson, P.E., research engineer with at R.J. Kenney & Associates, says that “if you take a look at the generic letter that the commissioner sends out to the state governors, you’ll see that it only states that if you don’t comply, the commissioner cannot determine whether or not you qualify, or to what degree you qualify, for any future state incentives. Mind you, it does not state that there will be incentives for the states, or penalties.

“Now, building codes, which determine use of new building systems, materials, processes and also address safety issues, must be implemented right away. But as a rule, new building codes broaden the scope of construction, widen the construction horizon, and states are quite willing to put such new codes in place.

“Energy codes, on the other hand, tend to limit or tighten the choices of systems and actually put more of a burden on the contractor or home builder. I can see why states are more prone to implement building codes than energy codes. Granted, the energy codes create additional burdens for good reasons, but they are not broadening the construction horizons.

“That said, I believe one of the main reasons that the energy codes are slow in being adopted is that there are no incentives in place right now, nor any penalties.”

What Would Speed Up Implementation?

AWCI’s Jones says that “if you make it too expensive to practice medicine, the doctor will find some other way to make a living. In other words, if the DOE does not realize that it is writing regulations that may be impossible or too expensive to implement, it may even write certain segments of the industry out of business.”

Pedracine says, “Money would speed it up: A big carrot, like the one deployed for IECC 2009, which was linked to stimulus money. Of course, energy codes do tie into global warming, since buildings are the greatest energy spenders/wasters in the world, and I don’t think that the general public is aware of that. If we were to see a campaign that bullet-pointed exactly what strong energy codes would do both in terms of energy savings and American independence from foreign oil, I think everybody could buy into this, and that would speed things up a lot.”

Robinson says, “Had these energy codes been mandatory, and I mean mandatory with teeth, the implementation would have been much faster. It needs real carrots and perks, real sticks.”

Watson believes “the DOE would have to issue another letter, one with some teeth, stating that there will be such and such a penalty if you don’t comply, or specifying the incentive if you do.

“Another way to effect better compliance would be to implement a pass-through incentive. By that I mean, they should implement a tax credit for owners who adopt the energy codes in the projects.”

Charles Antone, consultant with R.J. Kenney and Associates, says that “eventually the rising cost of energy will create an external need to make states comply. They would have to, simply to save the money spent on energy.”

Watson adds, “Also, American energy self-sufficiency is not being pushed nor marketed these days. That, of course, is something that everybody can get onboard with. And should lots of people become involved with and clamor for stricter energy codes it will become a political issue. That would speed things up.”

Antone, “Today, Americans are buying more and more small cars, for that very reason—to save on energy. Eventually the energy codes will catch up to what Americans are driving.”
The Inevitable
Still, even if current state implementation of these codes is moving at a snail’s pace, if you’re operating in California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts or Mississippi, these code requirements—or their equivalents—will apply right now; and for the rest of the states, over the years ahead, they will gain firmer and firmer footing, to eventually and inevitably become builder-law throughout the country.

What are the salient points?

The two code changes in IECC 2012 that most affect our readers are these two:

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.
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; and increased efficiencies for installed HVAC equipment.

Residential Buildings. The residential efficiency improvements in the 2012 IECC will affect nearly every aspect of home construction—including these areas:

A better thermal envelope (windows, insulation, etc.).
Less duct leakage in HVAC distribution systems.
Tighter thermal envelopes from improved air barriers and sealing.
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 (here shown compared to the 2009 IECC requirements).

Commercial Buildings. Similar improvements are specified in the commercial code, including a mandated air barrier in all climate zones except zones 1, 2 and 3, with the following requirements:
The barrier can be placed either inside or outside building envelope, within the assemblies composing 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.

A not-often 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 exterior insulation and finish systems have 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 which—at least in this writer’s opinion—is poised to gain major market share as the IECC 2012 gains acceptance.

Watson says, “What people must understand … is that EIFS has made good sense for a long time. But while the code can seem to be written to EIFS, code writers are very careful not to cater to any one vendor, nor to create a new market. Also, there are other claddings that now also provide a continuous envelope, such as vinyl siding and masonry, which can both be built with insulation behind them.

“EIMA and EIFS are in a great position now, though. They can say that they’ve been meeting these energy requirements for years.

“That said, I do believe that EIFS’ time has come, and that they should be able to take advantage of this—especially now that EIFS has become part of the building code (IBC 2012 Chapter 14.08) with its own section in chapter 14. Prior to this version of the building code, EIFS was always just an evaluation report, never part of the code language itself. Now it is. This should settle a few architects’ and insurers’ nerves.”

Eventually, whether spurred by rising energy costs or public outcry, or by the implementation of meaningful DOE carrots and sticks, the world will turn a little greener, and the IECC 2012 will become the national standard, as will, eventually, the even stricter IECC 2015.

And that will be the season of the improved thermal envelope. Whatever forms that will take, we had better get up to speed on the technologies involved, for they will be specified by the architects and required by the states.

Los Angeles-based Ulf Wolf is the senior writer at Words & Images.

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