Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Role of Energy Codes in Resilient Design

On October 22, I was in Portland, Ore., to give out the first everExcellence in Energy Code Compliance Award at the Annual Conference of the International Code Council. The first-of-its-kind award, sponsored by IMT and the Global Buildings Performance Network, recognized jurisdictions that are doing a superior job making sure homes and buildings are built in compliance with their local energy code.
While manning IMT’s booth during the conference, the very first code official to come over asked: “What do energy codes have to do with health and life safety?”
This is a fairly common question asked by code officials. The belief that energy codes do not impact health and life safety is one of several barriers to comprehensive enforcement. Ironically, just one week later, a natural disaster would help make the case for just how important energy codes can be to health and life safety.
A late-in-the-season Hurricane Sandy, combined with a cold front sweeping in from the west, meant that more than 8 million people would be left without power and in the cold. More than two weeks after the storm, tens of thousands were still without power and fighting the cold temperatures.
So what do energy codes have to do with their predicament?
Energy codes contribute to resilient design and construction practices. According to theResilient Design Institute:
Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption of some sort. At various levels—individuals, households, communities, and regions—through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services.
Energy codes address minimum requirements for insulation and air leakage in the building envelope as well as mechanical systems, hot water systems, and lighting. Of course, in a power outage, none of the mechanical, hot water, or lighting systems will work. But there’s one component of the energy code that has a big impact on resilience when the power goes out—the building envelope.
The energy code requirements for the building envelope include insulation in the wall, floor, and ceiling as well as energy-efficient windows and doors. In addition, the entire building envelope is required to be sealed to limit air leakage into and out of the home.
Some say that codes and rules are meant to be broken. But when they keep you warm or cool and improve your wellbeing—especially during a disaster—they become something to live with and live by. The benefit of building new homes and retrofitting old homes with well-insulated and well-sealed envelopes is that they will maintain a much more thermally comfortable environment when the power is out.
So whether you just experienced the worst ice storm in a decade, or if a derecho has knocked out your power for a week during a 100 + degree heatwave, you don’t have to immediately evacuate your living space. Meeting code requirements keeps extreme temperatures from seeping through your doors and walls.
In terms of health and life safety, extremely cold temperatures within a home can mean burst pipes, even hypothermia and the possible death of occupants. To fight cold temperatures, occupants will often resort to fires and portable gas heaters, which can also lead to home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, another serious health threat.
As local governments contemplate devoting resources to enforcing the energy code, they should recognize that the benefits extend beyond just saving their citizens and businesses money on their energy bills. It also saves lives.

Excellence in Energy Code Compliance Award, 2012

This post originally published on the Institute for Market Transformation website on Oct. 26, 2012.
Written by: Andrea Krukowski

We are proud to announce the winners of IMT’s 2012 Excellence in Energy Code Compliance Award, which were revealed earlier this week at the opening session of the ICC Annual Conference in Portland, Ore.

The grand prize winner is Hoffman Estates, Ill., of the Small Jurisdictions category; the winner of the Large Jurisdictions category is Pima County, Ariz. ; and the Energy Codes Champion Award goes to Gil Rossmiller, Chief Building Official of Parker, Colo.

We were impressed by the breadth and quality of the entries we received. Building departments from small towns, sprawling counties, and metropolises, as well as state environmental departments and energy programs, applied. It was clear to IMT that all of the award applicants put a strong emphasis on enforcing the energy code, in spite of declining budgets.

Some learned to do more with less and others fostered partnerships with outside organizations; whatever the method, many applicants have improved compliance rates in recent years and are motivating their citizens to pay attention to the energy efficiency of the buildings they occupy.

In this post, we’ll take the opportunity to highlight the grand prize winner, the building department of the Village of Hoffman Estates, Ill., and what it’s doing to improve energy code compliance.

Village of Hoffman Estates

The Village of Hoffman Estates, a suburb of Chicago with a population of 52,000, has achieved rates of over 90 percent for energy code compliance. The Code Enforcement Division, on the verge of losing inspectors during the recession, used American Recovery and Reinvestment (ARRA) grant funds to save staff positions, get members of the staff certified as Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Energy Analysts, and organize training seminars.

It undertook the responsibility of educating the building community and residents about the energy code—staff built a demonstration “Energy House” in the Village Hall to show how residential energy products, like windows, flashing, insulation, and venting, should be installed correctly. In addition they  also made instructional videos.
To assist some residents, the building department runs a program to subsidize energy assessments for homes that were built earlier than 1998, when the village started enforcing the energy code for residential buildings. With newly-purchased energy equipment, the staff point out areas of air infiltration and help homeowners identify opportunities for improvements.

Conducting energy assessments has also been educational for the staff, as well as Hoffman Estates locals—the division has learned what parts of the energy code home owners know least about and which parts of the codes homes often do not comply with. These assessments have informed a revamp of parts of the permitting and inspection process.

Even after the ARRA funding is spent, Hoffman Estates has made investments that will continue to yield benefits, educate its citizens and builders, and reinforce the importance of energy codes.

If you’re looking for  materials on how to improve code compliance and streamline code processes, visit our codes page and our resource library.

In the next installment of this Awards series, we’ll highlight other winning jurisdictions and some finalists.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

IMT Announces Call for Entries for Excellence in Energy Code Compliance Award

On June 18, the Institute for Market Transformation announced a call for entries for the first ever Excellence in Energy Code Compliance Award. This award will recognize the best state, local and third-party energy code compliance programs in the U.S. The deadline for applying is August 15 and winners will be announced at the International Code Council Annual Conference in October in Portlland, Oregon. Winners will also be profiled in an article in Eco Home Magazine.

For more information and the application visit: www.imt.org/codecompliance

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Code Compliance in Renovations

It’s no secret that compliance rates for new construction with national model energy codes (International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE Standard 90.1) are staggeringly low.  A recent white paper from the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (www.mwalliance.org) summarizes energy code compliance rates in three states, ranging from 16 to 70 percent for new construction. It is well understood that building energy codes apply to all new construction, and their requirements are fairly straight forward.

Now consider that the application of energy codes to additions, alterations and renovations to existing buildings is not well known and not so straight forward and you begin to realize that energy code compliance for these types of projects is certainly much lower than for new construction. This noncompliance leaves a tremendous amount of potential energy savings on the table, especially when considering that 50 percent of the U.S. building stock is expected to be renovated over the next 30 years.1

The Global Buildings Performance Network (GBPN) has recognized this potential for energy savings and is supporting research into best practices and the development of materials to explain the application of energy codes to work being done on existing buildings. As the U.S. Hub of the GBPN, the Institute for Market Transformation has been leading this much needed work and recently published five brochures that explain the application of the International Energy Conservation Code to additions, alterations and renovations to existing buildings.

Tri-fold brochure for commercial buildings
Ensuring that design professionals, builders, trades and code officials understand when the energy code applies to a project and what aspects of the project it will impact is a critical first step to securing simple energy savings in building renovations.

Each of the five brochures can be downloaded at www.imt.org/codecompliance. The brochures can also be customized by individual states and localities with their logos and contact information. To obtain an editable version of the brochures, please email Ryan at ryan@imt.org


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Webinar on Improving Energy Code Compliance--Feb. 23 @ 2PM

On February 23, I will be speaking on the topic of Local Strategies for Improving Energy Code Compliance, in a FREE webinar at 2 PM Eastern.  This webinar is intended for elected officials, appointed officials, code officials, energy officials, sustainability directors, advocates and other stakeholders.

Over the past six years, national model energy codes have increased energy efficiency by an average of 30%. Unfortunately, these potential savings often go unrealized due to a lack of compliance. This webinar will offer strategies that cash-strapped local governments can use to ensure that buildings are meeting the energy code without busting their budgets.

More and more lately there are stories of local governments implementing energy efficiency programs for their own public buildings because it is a cost effective way to reduce operating expenses. Often these same local governments have inadequate programs to enforce the energy code for newly constructed privately owned buildings in their jurisdiction. Local government officials should realize that the same benefits they are realizing by reducing the energy costs in their own buildings can be realized by their businesses and citizens, if they enforce the energy code for new construction and renovations. It's also worth noting that lower energy costs cause other forms of consumer spending (discretionary spending) to increase, which could have economic benefits for local communities. 

Webinar attendees will leave with an understanding of the importance of enforcing the energy code as well as effective strategies for doing so. 

    Also speaking: John Umphress, Austin Energy Green Building Program, Austin, Texas; and Jim H. Brown, City of Gillette, Wyoming. This event is produced by IMT and presented by the National League of Cities' Sustainability Program, the National Association of CountiesICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

The three strategies that will be addressed include:

Design Professional Accountability.  This strategy examines the requirement in Wisconsin that a design professional be involved in the construction inspection process for all commercial buildings over 50,000 cubic feet and sign a statement of compliance prior to the certificate of occupancy being issued. The statement of compliance includes energy code provisions as well as other building code requirements.

Streamlining Compliance Processes. Streamlining is the practice of improving building regulatory processes to remove overlap and duplication and create more efficient administrative procedures. When implemented properly this strategy not only makes building departments more efficient and effective at enforcing construction code requirements, but it also improves customer service and provides financial savings for the local government, its citizens and private industry. 

Third-Party Enforcement. Third-party enforcement can take on many variations which range from a comprehensive program for all code enforcement activities to specific third-party enforcement for individual activities such as performance testing, plan review or energy code inspections. Varying third-party enforcement strategies will be discussed.

View a recording of the webinar here. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

IMT and GBPN Publish Three "Code Compliance Strategies"

The development of the International Energy Conservation Code has produced nearly a 30% increase in the code's energy efficiency provisions from the 2006 to the 2012 editions. However, for states and jurisdictions, simply adopting an efficient code does not mean new buildings will be energy efficient. In fact, it is widely recognized that the energy code is often ignored or inadequately enforced by local code officials who lack the resources to ensure proper enforcement. This means the energy efficiency gains made in the development of the code are lost due to a lack of compliance with its provisions.

The Institute for Market Transformation and the Global Buildings Performance Network have attacked the challenge of low energy code compliance rates head-on. Their first step in a quest to improve compliance is the development of successful strategies (best practices) for improving energy code compliance. The first three of these compliance strategies have been published and at least three more are in the pipeline to be released in early 2012. The first three studies include:

  • Third-Party Performance Testing (a case study of practices in Austin, Texas). This case study looks at the requirements in Austin, Texas for mandatory performance testing for all residential construction. Austin requires that a third-party perform a duct and envelope leakage, air flow and static pressure test on every new home.

  • Design Professional Accountability This case study examines the requirement in Wisconsin that a design professional be involved in the construction inspection process for all commercial buildings over 50,000 cubic feet and sign a statement of compliance prior to the certificate of occupancy being issued. The statement of compliance includes energy code provisions as well as other building code requirements. 

  • Third-Party Plan Review This case study examines how the use of third-party plan review can improve compliance with building energy codes as well as speed up the regulatory approval process.

Each of these compliance strategies has great potential to improve energy code compliance. The next three case studies will take a slightly more holistic approach to addressing code compliance issues. In the energy codes "world" a holistic approach to building design is always advocated as the best way to ensure an energy efficient building. Unfortunately, energy efficiency advocates have not taken a holistic approach to improving code compliance. This type of approach does not simply give "101 reasons to enforce the energy code" and expect code officials to agree and take on the added responsibilities. A holistic approach to improving energy code compliance looks at all the responsibilities of a building official to see how energy code enforcement can be effectively integrated.

Read the case studies at www.imt.org/codecompliance.

Send your comments or questions to ryan@imt.org.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!

If you give code officials and builders the information they need to understand the major provisions of the energy code, it just might improve compliance. Georgia's 2011 Amendments to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code include an appendix with illustrated color graphics explaining key insulation and air sealing details for single- and multi-family residential construction.

Here is an example of one graphic:

Download the 2011 GA Amendments to the 2009 IECC here. The graphics begin on page 18.

Do you know of other great compliance tools?  Pass them along.