International Code Council
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ICC, AIA Clash Again Over Energy Codes, Industry Input

March 9, 2021
The International Code Council's proposed new framework on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions has ignited an industry uproar.

In an unusually public and pointed industry debate, the International Code Council (ICC) and American Institute of Architects (AIA) locked horns again March 4 after ICC released "a new framework to assist governments and building industry stakeholders in meeting energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals."

AIA contends that by changing the development of its energy code from the current Governmental Consensus Process to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards process, ICC is watering down environmental goals and weakening related green standards in favor of special interests.

According to ICC, the new framework, Leading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate, will use the ANSI-approved standards process to update the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). ICC's Board of Directors, which consists of 18 government code officials elected by their peers, voted to adopt the new framework,

For its part, AIA had voiced strong opposition to the proposed changes in January. On March 4, the architects group renewed the debate, issuing this retort within just minutes of ICC's announcement:

“We are deeply disappointed to see the ICC move forward with this change, which we believe will present a step backwards for climate action,” said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. “This heavily opposed decision stands to only serve select special interest groups and will no doubt erode progress towards the modern codes that are desperately needed to heal our planet. We hope the ICC Board of Directors will ensure transparency and fairness in the selection of this new standard committee and take its oversight responsibility seriously.”

ICC's new Energy and Carbon Advisory Council will consist of governmental and industry leaders who will advise on which additional greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policies the IECC should integrate, the pace that the IECC's baseline efficiency requirements should advance, plus needs and gaps that the Code Council should work to address. ICC said it will begin outreach this month to fill the Energy and Carbon Advisory Council. It will also issue a call for applications for the IECC Development Committees, which "will represent diversity across nine interest categories and assure representation from a diversity of jurisdictions, experiences in building types and energy efficiency strategies, and geographies," the ICC statement said.

ICC President Greg Wheeler, CBO, stated, "After careful consideration of all the input, the Board of Directors has approved this coordinated, comprehensive strategy to support the needs of our communities, building on the Code Council's strong foundation of technical solutions provided by the IECC, International Residential Code and International Green Construction Code."

Advisors included the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

“This is an important change that we expect to result in a model energy code that meets the needs of consumers, builders, building officials and energy efficiency advocates,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke. “At this point, we are reviewing the details of the proposed framework, but it appears to provide a clear improvement for the energy code development process going forward. NAHB looks forward to participating in the new standards development process to maximize cost-effective efficiency improvements in the residential energy codes.”

Many other groups do not share NAHB's positive assessment. According to Engineering News-Record (ENR):

The proposed changeover drew 207 written comments to ICC from government officials, industry representatives and trade and professional organizations, with 75% weighing in against change. The comments came from dozens of cities and states, AIA and many of its chapters, the National Association of State Energy Officials, ASHRAE, and DuPont Safety & Construction.  

“We are concerned about the new process announced by ICC for setting model building codes," said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "These codes, when adopted by state and local governments, play a key role in reducing the energy use and emissions of our homes and buildings. The ICC, which develops and publishes model codes, threw out the elections process by which state and local government officials recently overcame powerful commercial interests to secure large energy savings. Its board says the new process will deliver maximum energy efficiency that is ‘safe, technologically feasible, and life cycle cost effective.’ Now it needs to deliver on that promise. Only strong pressure from state and local officials committed to sustainability has made ICC deliver robust efficiency gains in the past. We will be watching and will hold the ICC to its stated interest in a balanced, fair process committed to the energy efficiency that is necessary to address the climate crisis.”

For its part, ICC has sought to allay concerns and says it has incorporated feedback.

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

Added ICC CEO Dominic Sims, CBO, "We have heard clearly feedback from the building safety community asking us to strengthen the IECC and create new resources to help communities address their climate goals. We will rise to that challenge." 

According to ICC, future editions of the IECC will build on prior successes including an increase of efficiency requirements by about 40%, or an average of 8% 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% 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, explained ICC in its March 4 statement.

In its own March 4 rapid response, AIA spelled out its opposition:

The ICC Board of Directors voted to create a new committee—to be selected by the ICC Board—that would make decisions on residential and commercial energy efficiency codes. As part of this move, the ICC effectively eliminates a final governmental vote by its members. The move appears to be in the interest of granting select special interest groups—such as the National Association of Home Builders and the American Gas Association—with greater decision-making authority.

AIA has been fighting the ICC’s proposal since it was proposed in December. On Jan. 6, AIA provided public input to the ICC Board of Directors and leadership expressing staunch opposition to the plan. On Jan. 21, AIA representative to the ICC Long Term Code Development Process Committee, Chris Chwedyk, AIA, testified at the ICC’s Board of Directors public comment hearing echoing AIA’s opposition.

Added ACEEE's Nadel, "Only if the ICC Board breaks its deference to the NAHB and truly abides by its new energy efficiency and sustainability commitment can it meet our great need for reducing energy bills, making homes more resilient in the face of increasingly extreme weather, and combatting climate change."

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About the Author

Rob McManamy | Editor in Chief

An industry reporter and editor since 1987, McManamy joined HPAC Engineering in September 2017, after three years with, a Chicago-based media startup focused on tech innovation in the built environment. He has been covering design and construction issues for more than 30 years, having started at Engineering News-Record (ENR) in New York, before becoming its Midwest Bureau Chief in 1990. In 1998, McManamy was named Editor-in-Chief of Design-Build magazine, where he served for four years. He subsequently worked as an editor and freelance writer for Building Design + Construction and Public Works magazines.

A native of Bronx, NY, he is a graduate of both the University of Virginia, and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Contact him at [email protected].