The Battle Over the Energy Code Development Process [Part 2]

The battle over IECC developmen

The ICC announced their decision to move to a standards process for IECC development, but affordability vs. efficiency debates remain.

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Published April 23, 2021
Reading Time: 12 minutes
Published April 23, 2021
Reading Time: 12 minutes

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The Debate Over Home Builder Influence in IECC Development

Former NAHB board member Ron Jones is critical of NAHB’s position on codes. In an October 2019 piece by Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times (Times), Jones states, “It really makes it difficult for the advancement of energy efficiency... The home builders took [the ICC] hostage saying, ‘If you don’t work with us, we will look elsewhere to promote other codes.’" 1

Jones is the President of Green Builder Media, which publishes Green Builder Magazine, and a well-respected proponent for advancing green building practices throughout the home building industry.

He goes on to say in his response for input to the ICC:

Tilting the regulatory playing field even further in the direction of the builder trades is shameful and the domination by these groups over ICC and its leadership will only get worse every time you allow them to bully the process. Transparency is the path to changing the narrative and the ultimate outcome.

Earthjustice, an environmental advocacy group of lawyers, investigated the ICC-NAHB relationship on behalf of environmental interests. The had a provision that the NAHB would not promote codes that compete with ICC codes in return for guaranteed seats on key committees. 1

Earthjustice also points out that the NAHB has messaged its membership noting the ICC committee's effectiveness at stopping proposals it did not support.  Home builder savings attributed to keeping costly provisions out of the building code was estimated to amount to $1000 per housing start in 2015. 1

According to Michael Pfeiffer, Senior VP for Technical Services at the ICC, guaranteeing seats to the home builders was a way to take advantage of the industry's experience. It brings key stakeholders to the table. Furthermore, he explains that it is not unusual for the council's 8,000 voting members to overturn a decision by a committee and insists that checks and balances are in place.1

The past-chairman of the NAHB, Greg Ugalde, said it was appropriate for home builders to have a voice on the committees, "Our industry is essential in the use of codes. Our members are the ones using them directly and they know what works and doesn't." Ugalde further stated that "the committee members appointed by the NAHB are not a block vote. They make their own decisions on how to vote." 1

Balancing the Need for Affordability with Zero Energy Building Carbon Efficiency Goals

Flavell writes, "Advocates for tougher building codes say the effects of the decisions like these will be felt for generations as global warming leads to more powerful storms and a higher risk of property damage.” 1

The new IECC is expected to be the most energy efficient model code to date. Expected to achieve between 8-14% savings over the 2018 version, it includes appendices in both the Residential and Commercial versions that provide a pathway to Zero Energy Building in new construction.  1

However, this comes at a cost. The increased costs inherent in meeting this 2021 version of the code will raise housing costs by thousands of dollars. This will impact affordability, especially with entry-level buyers and minorities seeking the benefits of home ownership.

 

Local governments face balancing the competing goals of:

  • reducing housing costs to enhance housing affordability and
  • increasing energy efficiency and reducing housing's carbon footprint.

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Ryan Marshall is the CEO of the Pulte Group, one of the nation's largest homebuilders. He cites the Home Innovation Research Lab's cost estimates for some of the IECC 2021 new requirements:

Slab Insulation

Cost:           over $1,000
Savings:     $8/year
Payback:    58 years

Wall Insulation

Cost:           over $4,100
Savings:     $18/year
Payback:    103 years

Ceiling Insulation

Cost:          over $1,900
Savings:    $7/year
Payback:   118 years

As we have seen elsewhere in this article, those taking sides on the issues may be prone to specious claims.

Strong Opinions Abound on the Choice Between a Governments Consensus v. Standards Consensus for IECC Development Process

The code process caused much controversy. The construction industry felt that the code officials and government sustainability officers had an unfair advantage in voting members. This has caused of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) concern that the events over the last few months of early 2020 suggested that the standards process for the IECC development was gathering momentum. 2

[...] during the appeals process, proponents pushing for the removal of the voter-approved proposals suggested that many governmental officials throughout the country were not sufficiently knowledgeable of the issues to cast votes. Contrary to this point, those in favor of the voter-adopted code feel that local governments are in the best position to understand and advocate for the priorities of their local industries and communities, as the topics covered by the overturned proposals already appear in many local laws and ordinances.

If successful, what is now the IECC would be decided not by voters representing the cities and counties that adopt and use the code, but instead by a committee whose composition will be determined solely by the ICC.

- Amy Boyce of the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT)
Source: IMT.org

It is important to note that these committees would also include government officials that would have an important say in developing the standards.

Boyce explains that "The ICC says that its code development process is open, transparent, and represents a balance of interest leaving the final determination of code provisions in the hands of public safety officials.”

Boyce also writes that many claim that "the bottom-up model of governmental stakeholder participation is a huge component of what has made it widely adopted."

They fear that if the ICC changes this process, "the IECC will lose the qualities that have made it a trustworthy and uniform code. Leading cities and states are already adopting progressive measures on their own; changing the IECC to a standard would drive them to reject the IECC completely and leave the majority of jurisdictions in the country without a ready-to-adopt code that provides reliable, large-scale savings." 2

The ICC accepted written and verbal testimony from concerned parties for a meeting the week of January 18, 2021. You can read the comments from interested parties here.

Home Builders Respond to IECC Development Process Discussion


Leading Builders of America:  CEO Ken Gear responded on behalf of the LBA to the ICC’s request for comments:

Due to its political nature, development of the IECC/IRC Ch.11 poses unique challenges that the other ICC codes do not. The current development process with respect to the energy code has devolved into is a highly adversarial and polarizing one leaving virtually no opportunity for collaboration or compromise. The result is a 'winner-take-all' outcome. This is not consistent with ICC values or of the true meaning of consensus. Moreover, the lack of compromise and consensus building has led to the ultimate disapproval of several proposals for the 2021 edition.
For the building community, the 2021 code update was cause for serious concern. Multiple code changes were approved that will increase the cost of a new home by up to $10,000 with only modest savings for consumers. Some of the new requirements have payback periods of over 100 years. Each of these 'high-cost-low benefit' code changes were twice rejected during the code development process. They were approved as the result of an unprecedented effort to manipulate the ICC's governmental online consensus vote. Click here to learn more about this effort https://youtu.be/hQw4YBNOIso.
Leading Builders of America fully supported the change to a standards development process. They believed that this was the only path to developing a conservation code that reduces energy consumption while preserving affordability.

Over the past 20 years, energy consumption by new homes has been reduced by nearly 50%. The challenge facing builders, code officials and policy makers now is how to continue this progress. The current code development process is characterized by conflict, confrontation, and a 'winner-take-all' mindset in a process vulnerable to manipulation.

Future gains in efficiency like integrating renewables, advancing electrification, and reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment require a new approach. The United States is experiencing a housing affordability crisis that is squeezing middle-class families and exacerbating the homeless crisis. In our pursuit to address climate change we must ensure that we don't make the current affordability crisis even worse than it already is.

NAHB Responds: John Fowke the NAHB Chairman has several reasons for supporting ICC's proposal to modify the IECC development process, among them:

- The energy code is getting more complex, with each iteration of the IECC requiring more discussion and modifications to the proposed changes to ensure the final result meets the intended goals and is workable in the field. An ANSI committee approach allows for more deliberative discussions and exchange of ideas, as well as opportunities to jointly analyze supporting data, ask questions, and develop collaborative solutions, which result in a more balanced and cost-effective code.

- Online voting allows for political manipulation of the outcome – an end result that is neither desirable nor appropriate. Changing to an ANSI process eliminates this possibility and better ensures the results are representative of the views held by the broader ICC membership.

- Because the Committee will meet more often and have more time to consider and discuss all implications of proposed changes, the Committee responsible for developing the IECC via the ANSI process can be more responsive to conceptual changes to the codes as well as resolve. This results in codes that are better aligned and easier to implement and enforce."

Fowke writes that "While NAHB believed the change to an ANSI standard is necessary and the right course of action for ICC, [the NAHB] understood that some stakeholders were not as enthusiastic. Several of the arguments others have forwarded to support their position, however, [may be] inaccurate." (Refer to this hyperlink for further response to concerns).

House of Representatives Inquiry

The discussion over IECC development also prompted interest from the U.S. Congress. In January 2021, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce contacted the Code Council to request information about its code development process and the IECC. The letter from the Congress referred back to the New York Times article from two years earlier claiming that the nation’s home builders were holding up progress on rapidly increasing energy savings standards.

The ICC responded that it recognizes that the "IECC is an important element of national energy policy and a major tool in our efforts to address climate change." The Code Council also stated that it "appreciated the Committee's interest and welcomed the opportunity to engage policymakers at all levels of government on the importance of adopting and effectively implementing up-to-date building codes."

"As the Committee acknowledged, codes and standards play an important role in advancing energy efficiency and responding to a changing climate. In his first days in office, President Biden has made it clear that the new U.S. administration will prioritize tackling the climate crisis with building energy codes as an important component of that work. The Code Council is committed to helping our communities advance energy efficiency, and they look forward to working closely with Congress and the new administration."

ICC Board Reaches a Solution

On March 4, the ICC released a new framework to assist governments and building industry stakeholders in meeting energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals:

The Code Council Board of Directors — which consists of 18 government code officials who were elected by their peers — adopted the framework Leading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate. This framework includes using the Code Council's American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approved standards process to update the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Future editions of the IECC will build on prior successes, including an increase of efficiency requirements by about 40 percent, or an average of eight percent a cycle from 2006 to 2021, allowing the IECC to remain a strong avenue for communities to reach their energy efficiency and sustainability goals globally. With the base 2021 IECC efficiency requirements just 10 percent away from net-zero for residential buildings, under the new framework future editions of the IECC will increase base efficiency using a balancing test proposed in bipartisan legislation that has cleared the U.S. House and Senate and has been supported by energy efficiency advocates and the building industry.

The IECC will be developed under a revised scope and be part of a portfolio of greenhouse gas reduction solutions that could address electric vehicles, electrification and decarbonization, integration of renewable energy and energy storage, existing buildings performance standards, and more. The Code Council's new framework will also provide optional requirements aimed at achieving net-zero energy buildings presently and by 2030. Using a tiered approach, the framework offers adopting jurisdictions a menu of options, from a set of minimum requirements to pathways to net-zero energy and additional greenhouse gas reduction policies.

[…]

The Code Council has also announced the establishment of an Energy and Carbon Advisory Council that will consist of governmental and industry leaders to inform the Code Council's efforts. The Energy and Carbon Advisory Council will advise on which additional greenhouse gas reduction policies the IECC should integrate, the pace that the IECC's baseline efficiency requirements should advance, plus the needs and gaps that the Code Council should work to address. The Code Council will begin outreach to fill the Energy and Carbon Advisory Council in March.

“Government officials will have the strongest voice on the committee, and the consensus process requires one third of the seats to be government regulators,” continued Wheeler. Committee membership will be determined through an open nominations process with no seats reserved for organizations.

For additional information:

Conclusion: Tensions Eased, but a Paradox Remains


  • For nearly three decades the key stakeholders have constantly complained that “the other side” had the most influence over IECC development. The NAHB was targeted, tagged with a reputation for slowing the movement toward more energy efficiency in favor of cost savings. The home builders fired back citing the political manipulation of the online voting system leaving no opportunity for collaboration and compromise. The polarization among the stakeholders was increasing, becoming more adversarial. This moved the ICC Board of Directors to action.

 

  • The momentum for change to a Standards Process was in initiated by the ICC Board of Directors in order to heal the growing rift that was getting out of control. This was a bold move by the board that will limit the polarization of all the key stakeholders.

 

  • The debate over homebuilder influence was addressed with no committee seats specifically reserved for that trade organization. Home builders and code officials will now have an environment that can lead to more cooperation and collaboration. This would also include associated industries and concerned environmental groups.

 

  • The debate between affordability versus the increased cost that may be mandated by Zero Energy Building remains a paradox. With building costs skyrocketing, there is no mechanism that was put into place to provide cost control. The movement toward ZEB by 2030 is the sole mission. A meaningful way to provide lower cost housing for first time home buyers and increasing home ownership for minorities was not in this platform.

 

  • The debate over a Government Consensus Process versus the Standards Consensus Process has been resolved by the ICC Board in favor of the Standards Process. This debate will stop for a while. The development of the 2024 IECC will test how well the Standards Process works.

Sources

  1. "Secret Deal Helped Housing Industry Stop Tougher Rules on Climate Change" by Christopher Flavelle https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/26/climate/building-codes-secret-deal.html
  2. "Energy Code Faces Uncertain Future" by Amy Boyce https://www.imt.org/energy-efficient-code-faces-uncertain-future/

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Jeff Whiton Housing Tides Research Team Member

About Jeff Whiton

Jeff formerly headed operations for Lennar and KB Home in Colorado building nearly two per cent of the state’s total single-family housing stock. He was honored as Colorado’s Home Builder of the Year in 2001. Whiton also served as the CEO of the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver for eight years reviving the association from near bankruptcy after the Great Recession.

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