Energy Codes: The Year in Review and a Look Ahead - Diversified Communications

Commercial, Energy Efficiency, Regulation  -  February 27, 2023 - By Cherylyn Kelley, IMT

Energy Codes: The Year in Review and a Look Ahead

If you’re reading this article there’s a good chance that you, like me, are an energy nerd and are aware of how big of a year it’s been for codes. They may not be the hottest dinner party topic, but energy efficiency standards for building components have such an impact on our daily lives. Let’s take a moment to review a few 2022 highlights and I’ll give you some insight into what’s coming up in 2023.

Federal Funding
We’ve got some fresh federal funding coming down. The Department of Energy (DOE) finally released the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: Resilient and Efficient Codes Implementation (RECI) funding opportunity announcement at the tail-end of 2022, leaving some of us energy nerds on the edge of our seats for weeks. If you’re not in the loop, RECI is a competitive funding opportunity making $45 million available for the cost-effective implementation of updated energy codes that will save money, reduce emissions, and make buildings more resilient. The beauty of RECI is that it’s pretty flexible in terms of eligible projects and DOE is encouraging innovative approaches, such as those that include building performance standards. Notably, a jurisdiction doesn’t have to have the most recent energy code currently adopted in order to be eligible. Hopefully, you submitted your concept papers, it’s a requirement for the next step in the process—submitting a full application by March 27. As federal priorities shift towards energy efficiency, I think we’ll see more opportunities like this in the future.

Separately, additional funding will be available through Section 50131 of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – Assistance for Latest and Zero Building Energy Code Adoption, which provides $1 billion in State Energy Program grants for states and local government supporting adoption and implementation of the latest model energy codes and zero energy codes, or their equivalent. While less flexible than RECI, it may be the push some need to adopt the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), or even the 2024 IECC since funding will be available until September 30, 2029. I haven’t heard anything solid about a timeline related to this opportunity but hopefully, we will get more guidance soon. If you want to be in the know on code-related federal funding action, sign up for our EECC newsletter.

2024 IECC
Speaking of the IECC…You may recall that the International Codes Council (ICC) Board of Directors changed the development of the IECC from a code process to a standard process back in March 2021. As with any new process, there have been growing pains and these are evident in how far behind schedule the 2024 code development timeline is compared to past years. It was estimated that the first comment period for the code would be completed by Summer 2022, a second in early 2023, with the final publication of the new codes in Fall 2023. That seems decidedly less likely as the residential committees are only now addressing feedback from the first comment period and the commercial committees are only slightly further along. That is not to place any blame on committee members who have been hard at work on 2024. Maybe even too hard. One of the ongoing criticisms I’ve heard throughout EECC’s involvement in the process is how time-consuming it is to be fully engaged, creating a lot of frustration. My colleague Amy Boyce is a committee member, she and other EECC members have been pushing to ensure this new code will be more efficient than the last, despite rollback proposals from efficiency opponents.

That said, there is good news. The current draft of the IECC, both commercial and residential, are expected to save energy using the prescriptive path according to a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory interim analysis, however the performance path of the residential code is less clear thanks to newly introduced tradeoffs. Make sure you get important updates about the new code’s progress by signing up for EECC’s mailing list.

2021 IECC Adoption Highlights
Adoption of the 2021 IECC is really starting to pick up traction. Your humble author was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri; naturally this means I need to start off by declaring my immense energy nerd pride in my hometown for adopting the 2021 IECC! Get on our level, St. Louis! The Kansas City code goes into effect July 2023, after years of challenging discourse from powerful opponents.

Another significant win was the passage of Colorado House Bill (HB) 22-1362. It requires all jurisdictions in the state to adopt and enforce the 2021 IECC or equivalent beginning July 1, 2023 in order to support the achievement of the State’s climate goals. The law also requires the establishment of an Energy Code Board which will develop a model electric and solar-ready code on or before June 1, 2023, and a model low energy and carbon code on or before July 1, 2025. Last I heard, things are already in the works for the model electric and solar-ready code, so stay tuned.

One more big win I want to mention happened in Chicago, and Illinois more broadly. Chicago led the charge by passing the 2022 Energy Transformation Code in September 2022, which is based on and exceeds the 2021 IECC. In doing so, the City is laying the foundation for meeting the goals outline in its Climate Action Plan. Beyond that, the City set a good example for the state; Illinois was on the precipice of passing a 2021 IECC with weakening amendments. EECC and other efficiency proponents appealed to Governor Prizker, invoking his climate change initiatives and statewide energy conservation goals, and our collective action resulted in a complete repeal of all energy efficiency-reducing amendments to the code. Nothing is finalized yet, but, upon passage, Illinois will be well-positioned to take advantage of those IRA funds and, on a more tangible level, to make homes and buildings more comfortable, affordable, and resilient for years to come.

A trickle of states and localities completed their adoption processes in 2022 but so many more are in motion for 2023. In Utah, for example, the Building Code Commission recommended a weakened 2021 IECC to the legislature for their 2023 session. While it seems unlikely at this point, I am still hopeful improvements can be made to the code through that process. Now for a shameless plug—Utah is part of a DOE field study (along with Arizona) that evaluated code compliance in the state to identify compliance gaps and to develop and deploy training resources to fill those gaps. As it happens, your humble author oversees that project, so if your organization is interested in code compliance training in Utah (or Arizona for that matter), get in touch with me.

Last, but certainly not least: there has been quite a bit of energy code drama in Idaho. There was a close call in which the recently adopted 2018 IECC was nearly gutted in the name of Governor Brad Little’s Zero Based Regulation executive order. The EO was meant to “prevent the accumulation of costly, ineffective, and outdated regulations”—a laudable effort, but one that was misused in this instance. The proposed changes would have significantly weakening the existing code and left many sections with references to other sections that no longer existed—a veritable mess. Faced with overwhelming disapproval and growing opposition, such as EECC’s coalition to fight these changes, the effort has thus far been unsuccessful. The process was handed back to the Idaho Building Codes Board for a proper evaluation; the board will convene a romantic meeting on Valentine’s Day to discuss the future of the code.

What an exciting year! I could go on, but I’ll stop here. Be sure to tell me what’s happening with codes in your area so we can continue to advocate for efficiency and affordability alongside you. I have a feeling 2023 is going to be another big year.


This column originally appeared as a blog on IMT's website.

Cherylyn is IMT’s Manager of Building Energy Codes and Policy. She supports policy development and implementation, and actively participates in code development and adoption processes that dictate the energy efficiency of new construction throughout the U.S. Prior to joining IMT, Cherylyn was a Senior Energy Policy Analyst at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of Energy where she led the development of stakeholder-driven projects such as the Partnering with Missouri Communities: Roadmap to Resilience and the Missouri State Energy Planning Process. In her 5 years at the Division of Energy, she directed the Division’s legislative activities, supported emergency response through Emergency Support Function 12 (Energy), and provided training in energy efficiency to real estate professionals. Cherylyn earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from the University of Missouri and is working towards a Master of Business Administration at William Woods University.


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