Category: Building Codes

Virginia building code update hits a wall, and no one’s sure why

A proposed update to Virginia’s residential building code has been held up in administrative limbo despite a consensus from homebuilders and energy efficiency advocates.

Virginia homebuilders and energy efficiency advocates reached an agreement late last year on an overdue update to the state’s residential building code.

What happened next has frustrated advocates who had hoped to celebrate the state’s first residential code update this year in almost half a decade.

Weeks after a citizen board forwarded the proposal to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office, the rules remain held up in administrative limbo, and it’s unclear why. The governor’s  office hasn’t published the proposed changes in the Virginia Register, which would start a necessary public comment period.

Meanwhile, state fire safety officials oppose the changes, though it’s unclear whether their position is a factor in the delay at the governor’s office. A spokesman for the governor would only say the rules are “under review.”

The residential building code, which sets minimum efficiency standards for heating, cooling and lighting in newly constructed homes, haven’t been updated in Virginia since 2014, when the state adopted a residential code comparable to a national model code. New homes in the state cost more to heat, cool, and light than similar homes in states with more recent codes.

The recommended changes were compiled by a citizen board empowered by state law to advise the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Governors and state agencies typically adopt citizen boards recommendations verbatim because of their consensus-building processes.

Among the changes would be new requirements to test indoor air quality, conduct mechanical tests of heating and cooling ducts, and use the government ResCheck system as a compliance option for efficiency ratings.

“We were able to get these things through on a compromise,” said Chelsea Harnish, executive director of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC). “Since then, the regulation has been stalled. We’re very frustrated. New homes won’t reap the benefits of the efficiency gains we were able to achieve.”

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Building Energy Efficiency Has Stalled-Here’s How to Spark Progress

U.S. commercial buildings could cut energy use by 29 percent on average by taking full advantage of controls technology and implementing a few other base energy-efficiency measures, according to a new study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Commercial buildings account for 20 percent of U.S. energy use and produce 50 percent or more of a city’s greenhouse gas emissions (75 percent in New York). If we want “smart cities” to be more than just a catchy phrase, this is an opportunity we must seize.

The trouble is, the opportunity has been sitting there for a very long time. The Clinton Foundation announced a multibillion-dollar initiative to cut urban energy in 2007, on the same day the National Academy of Sciences, along with the scientific academies of 12 other countries, called on world leaders to address global warming by increasing energy efficiency. And yet, building energy use has risen over the past five years in even the most efficiency-conscious cities, based on an analysis of American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy data. What gives?

Part of the problem is flat-out lack of action. The other part is the persistent problem of performance drift — buildings and building systems should be highly efficient, but performance deteriorates rapidly or never matches the model. Culprits such as ineffective controls and a mismatch between design assumptions and building occupant behaviors get a lot of (deserved) scrutiny. But to really solve the problem, we need to rethink the metrics we use to measure energy design for smart buildings.

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Efficiency advocates try again to update Virginia building codes

Home efficiency advocates and homebuilders are squaring off in Virginia over what many stakeholders say is an overdue update to energy codes for new home construction.

A public comment period that began February 20 runs through April 21 with open meetings and an online portal. It is to be followed by a public hearing May 15 in Richmond. Gov. Terry McAuliffe will have the opportunity to add his efficiency recommendations before he leaves office at year’s end.

Despite the opportunities for public input, the interim path is a complex one and depends on interested parties making sure their views are heard and then surviving a vote that is heavily influenced by homebuilders.

Ultimately, any energy changes in the state’s residential new construction code will be decided by the board of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which includes several private homebuilders and developers.

Read more (Southeast Energy News)

DOE Pick Perry Backs Energy-Efficient Building Codes

Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump has selected Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy (DOE). This week, Perry testified in a confirmation hearing before the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and while it’s clear he supports policies that increase domestic energy production, he also indicated that he’ll support DOE’s efforts for energy efficiency in buildings.

Perry said he’d continue to back DOE’s role in pioneering new energy-efficiency technologies. He also pledged to help Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pass the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, also known as the Shaheen-Portman bill in honor of the Ohio lawmaker and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the co-sponsors.

A study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that by 2030, Shaheen-Portman could create more than 190,000 jobs, save consumers $16.2 billion a year, and drastically reduce CO2 emissions.

Read more (Door & Window Market Magazine)

The 2018 Building Energy Code Holds the Line for Efficiency

The newest building energy code, which will govern how much energy and money is saved by new home and commercial building owners, was recently approved by code officials—and by and large, they voted to uphold the great efficiency gains made in past code cycles.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is the model building energy code recognized by the Department of Energy (DOE) and cited in federal law. It is updated every three years through a stakeholder process involving code officials, builders, efficiency advocates, and other interested parties. The process for developing the newest code has been underway for more than a year: proposals for the 2018 IECC went through multiple rounds of hearings and public comments before building code officials from around the country got the final vote. Once the model code is developed, it’s then up to state and local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce the codes. The IECC is used by more than 40 states.

What are energy codes, anyway?

Building energy codes set specific requirements for the energy use of a building at the time of construction or during a major renovation. Codes are important because it’s much easier and less expensive to make energy efficient improvements while a home is under construction. Once something like insulation or windows is installed in a home, it’s likely to be a decade or more before they are replaced, and codes help make sure that efficient choices are made from the start. Codes have proven to be an incredibly effective tool to reduce energy use in homes and businesses, saving Americans money and reducing harmful pollution. A home built to the 2012 code uses about half of the energy as a standard home constructed in 1975—but there’s still room for improved efficiency.

Read more (NRDC)

Building Energy Code Compliance

After previously discussing what building codes are, how they are developed, and how they are adopted, we now explore the final, and perhaps most important, stage of the building energy code cycle: compliance. Compliance is where “the rubber meets the road” for energy codes. Without it, no energy is saved, and all the work done during the development and adoption phases is for naught.


The legal obligation to comply with the energy code (meeting all the applicable requirements) rests squarely on the professionals who design and construct buildings. On the residential side, homes are often designed by a licensed builder or other design professional (although this can vary depending in the complexity and customization of the home). While the builder may ultimately carry responsibility for code compliance, many subcontractors and trades play critical roles in ensuring compliance with the energy code. For example, lighting requirements may fall to the electrician, and tightening residential envelopes can affect a broad range of trades—from the foundation, to framing and insulation contractors, and even to the painting or finishing crews. In commercial buildings, the design team typically includes an architect and engineer, and is responsible for ensuring compliance with the relatively more complex commercial energy code requirements, from building shell and envelope features, to the internal electrical and mechanical systems.

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