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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Georgia's Statewide Performance Testing Requirements

A case study on Third Party Performance Testing by the Institute for Market Transformation outlines the residential performance testing requirements in Austin, Texas. (www.imt.org/codecompliance) In short, Austin Energy, a municipally owned electric utility administers a program where approved third-party testers are contracted by builders to perform duct and envelope tightness tests as well as static pressure and air flow testing. Each of those tests is required under Austin’s amendments to the 2009 IECC. Of course, having a municipally owned utility and Austin’s agreeable political environment made the implementation of such a program easier.  However, there is a lesson to be learned from a state with a less-than-favorable political climate, but was still able to implement a statewide residential performance testing requirement. 

The State of Georgia has amended the 2009 IECC to require building envelope and duct leakage testing be performed by a certified Duct and Envelope Tightness (DET) Verifier.  The 2011 Georgia Amendments to the 2009 IECC define a DET Verifier as someone who holds a HERS Certification, BPI Building Analyst Certification, is a Home Performance with Energy Star Contractor or completes the 8-hour DET Verifier Course, as approved by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, and successfully passes the practical and written exam.  The builder is responsible for hiring someone with one of these certifications to perform the building envelope and duct leakage testing. The results of the testing would then be submitted to the local Building Official.  In Austin, the average cost to the builder for having the testing performed is about $400.  Since Georgia’s code does not require the static pressure or air flow testing, as Austin does, it is estimated that the testing cost would be closer to $300.    

Although Georgia’s Code does require that the testing be done for new residential construction and that it be done by a certified individual, it does not require that individual to be an independent third-party.  In fact, as a compromise with the homebuilding industry, if a home builder, or any employee thereof, held one of the certifications, they could perform their own testing.  This could be seen as a loophole in Georgia’s Code, but it is believed that home builder’s who are willing to expend the time, effort and money to obtain the proper certification as well as purchase the equipment necessary for the testing, will be inclined to ensure that their employees and/or sub-contractors are performing quality, code-compliant work. 

Since, Georgia’s Amendments to the 2009 IECC took effect on January 1, 2011, there have been over 400 DET Verifiers certified.  The Georgia model relies on local Building Official’s to verify that the testing was done by a certified individual and therefore lacks the same level of oversight that the administrator of the Austin program provides.  Never-the-less, Georgia’s DET Verifier program can be an effective model for local and state governments wanting to enforce the energy code, but lacking the resources for in-house inspection or administrative oversight.                

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are Design Professionals the Key to Energy Code Compliance?

When a design professional (architect, engineer, interior designer, etc.) is responsible for the submission of construction documents to a local jurisdiction, it is commonly understood that the professional seal of that individual means they have approved those documents for compliance with local building codes. However, design professionals often have little or no involvement in overseeing the construction of a project. This leaves a potential gap in what the design professional approves and what is built. 

The state of Wisconsin closed this gap in oversight in 1974 by requiring that a supervising professional oversee construction and sign and submit a Statement of Compliance prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy. This is a state level regulation under Wisconsin Commercial Administrative Rule 61.40 and applies to all buildings over 50,000 cubic feet.  The statement of compliance includes building thermal envelope requirements, interior and exterior lighting and HVAC, as well as health and life safety requirements. The statement of compliance is an acknowledgement by the architect and any other design professionals involved with the project that the building was constructed in substantial compliance with the plans and applicable building codes.   

There is some evidence that this process may be working for energy code compliance in Wisconsin. The State participated in a U.S. Department of Energy-funded Compliance Pilot Study where they conducted an assessment of 44 randomly selected commercial buildings for compliance with the state energy code (IECC 2006/ASHRAE 90.1-04 in effect at the time of the study). They obtained an average compliance rate of 95%.

Admittedly there are other variables that effect code compliance rates, but the Wisconsin model could serve as an effective way to improve energy code compliance. Code officials in Wisconsin also say this model reduces their burden because the supervising professional is overseeing construction and is the one point of contact for the code official when issues arise. In addition, insurers of design professionals say that insurance rates in Wisconsin are no different than those of bordering states without a statement of compliance requirement.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Can local governments enforce the energy code and save money?

This idea may sound absurd, but it does hold promise in the not-so-new practice of streamlining.

Streamlining is the practice of improving building regulatory processes to remove overlap and duplication and create more efficient administrative procedures. When implemented properly it not only makes building departments more efficient and effective at enforcing building code requirements, but it also improves customer service and provides financial savings for the local government, its citizens and private industry. Thanks to the Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age (the Alliance), a tremendous amount of research and outreach has been done around streamlining over the past decade. An upcoming report by the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) will examine how streamlining can improve compliance with building energy codes. 

In undertaking streamlining, governments analyze their building regulatory process, gather input from stakeholders, identify strengths and weaknesses and determine how to make their process more efficient or “streamlined.” After burdensome regulatory requirements, including overlap and duplication are addressed; local governments can focus on improving their administrative procedures to reduce the time it takes a new building or building renovation to move through the regulatory process.  Areas for improvement often include permit application processing, plan submission and review, and scheduling and conducting inspections. The application of information technology (IT) is a common way for local governments to streamline their process. 

Why should local governments streamline?
In an article titled Is the Economy Threatening Building Code Effectiveness?, in the August 2011 Building Safety Journal Online, authors Mike Waters and Ralph Dorio of ISO Risk Decision Services state:

“…analysis of BCEGS [Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule] data reveals that the revenue-to-expense ratio of local building code enforcement agencies is dropping. That means future budgets will be even harder to balance – leading to staffing and workload issues. Local community officials will need to make critical decisions to retain the integrity of the essential mission of code administration.”
Burdensome and complicated regulatory processes can drive business out of town. A study published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states:

 “In the early 1990’s, jurisdictions in the San Jose/Silicon Valley region were surprised when several large information technology firms moved their operations to Austin, Texas. Leadership flew to Austin to learn why. One of the major factors contributing to attracting firms to Austin was a streamlined building codes administration and enforcement program that reduced the amount of time (and cost) for processing permits, gaining plan reviews and conducting inspections.”  
According to the Alliance “it is about increasing the efficiency of modern construction codes, rules and regulations and reducing the amount of time it takes to move a new building or building renovation through the regulatory process by as much as 80% annually saving both the private and public sectors tens of billions of dollars.” A response to a survey conducted by the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS) and the Alliance provides evidence that streamlining worked in Ventura County, California. Ventura County noted that for their investment of $160,000 for a permits and inspections software package, the County had saved over $1,000,000 in costs and reduced staff by 3 people while their workload increased by 80% over a 6-year period. Furthermore, the final report from the survey stated:

“Jurisdictions of all sizes ranging from Los Angeles, CA (population 3,649,000) to Cobleskill, NY (population 4,533) provided data documenting reductions in processing time from 20% to 80% with the application of information technology to one or more codes administration and enforcement processes.  Jurisdictions also reported marked improvements in their relationships with their clients/stakeholders (the construction industry, citizens, and their elected officials).”
Streamlining is one means by which local governments can cut costs while improving services.  By injecting the importance of energy code compliance into the streamlining discussion, local governments can incorporate it as they undertake streamlining initiatives. 

The IMT report on streamlining is published here: http://www.imt.org/resources/detail/streamlining-compliance-processes

For more information on the Alliance for Building Regulatory Reform in the Digital Age visit: http://natlpartnerstreamline.org/.