The ICC Hearings:
From October 2-9 building officials, industry representatives, and energy efficiency advocates met for the 2013 Public Comment Hearings in Atlantic City, NJ to finalize revisions to the International Code Council’s (ICC) suite of construction codes.
Hundreds of proposals to change one of these so called “I-codes,” the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), were crammed into the last four days of the Public Comment Hearings. With days starting at 8AM sharp and ending as late as 11:30PM, only those with terrific stamina would have been able to take part in the extracurricular amusements offered by the venue.
The IECC is revised every three years, with the new version finalized this month being the 2015 IECC [the “I-codes” are confusingly labeled a different year from when they were written].
Enter Kevin and Don:
As the title suggests, this was my first time attending the Public Comment Hearings—though technically, it was everyone’s first time, since they were formerly known as the Final Action Hearings. I had the good fortune of attending with fellow NEEPer Don Vigneau, a member of the IECC Residential Code Development Committee and a veteran of many previous hearings, who handled my questions about the hearing process and provided a consistent source of banter between trips to the front of the room to testify.
The IECC, which serves as the nation’s model building energy code, is divided into two sections—Residential and Commercial. There were not many changes made to the Residential code, it was certainly not due to lack of effort. The most important energy proposal heard at the Public Comment Hearings, RE166—which would have reintroduced unrestricted mechanical equipment trade-offs to the code’s performance path—was only defeated after two hours testimony and rebuttal on recounted lessons from years in the field, anecdotal pleas, efficiency and economic analyses, contrived maxims, and everything between. For RE166 and many other proposals, testimony in the interests of home builders was countered by a team of efficient code advocacy groups unwilling to allow rollbacks of the code. As such, there were few significant changes made to the Residential code, with the exceptions of the Energy Rating (e.g. HERS) compliance alternative created by RE188 and some new water/energy conservation measures.
Changes to the Commercial code, on the other hand, were made about as fast as I could record them. For more than a few Commercial proposals, the only testimony given before the vote was a clarification of exactly which proposal (or modification) was about to be voted on, a far cry from the drawn-out Residential paradigm. The voting pool of code officials also shrank considerably after those high-stakes rollback proposals, averaging 50 or less by the end of the hearings. Some of the most substantial code changes made during the Commercial hearings seek to improve energy code compliance, particularly for alterations, renovations, etc. to existing buildings, which have notoriously low compliance rates. Other noteworthy Commercial code changes include incremental energy efficiency gains to lighting (daylighting, controls, and power densities) and HVAC (minimum equipment efficiencies). There were also some efficiency gains made in water heating, a mix of gains and losses in the envelope, and a notable defeat of a proposal that would have constituted the IECC’s first plug load provision.
Boiling Down this Year's ICC Hearings:
So what do these results mean for code adoption and compliance going forward? Since the code changes are relatively minor (particularly on the Residential side), there could be an understandable lack of motivation among states that have adopted (or are in the process of adopting) the 2012 IECC to go through another lengthy adoption process for the 2015 IECC. The other side of the coin is that states that have stuck with the 2009 IECC might skip right to the 2015 IECC fairly easily. The clarification and organization work done for the 2015 IECC should increase compliance rates for adopting states. However, there is some cause for concern that disenfranchised builders who view the 2012 IECC as too extreme and were counting on 2015 IECC being a more reasonable step back will be resigned to continue shrugging off some energy code provisions.
For more information, NEEP has compiled a summary of major IECC results from the 2013 ICC Public Comment Hearings. Also available online are a complete listing of the Public Comment Hearing results and the Public Comment Agenda, which includes the full text of the original proposals, committee action, and public comments.