Summary

On March 20, 2012 the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) hosted a briefing about energy codes for buildings –– What is the value of codes? How are they set? What difference do they make? This briefing included a special presentation about a U.S. household survey on residential energy codes conducted by Consumers Union, home of Consumer Reports. About 5,000 households completed and returned the survey, which was part of an energy efficiency awareness initiative by Consumers Union and the Building Codes Assistance Project. Energy codes are intended to help ensure that new residential and commercial buildings (and major renovations) meet minimum levels of energy efficiency. Research shows that energy codes could save about 330 trillion BTU by 2030, almost two percent of residential energy consumption, which translates into consumer savings and other benefits.

 

Senator Shaheen made a special appearance to address the attendees. Here are some highlights from her visit:

  • Voluntary business codes should be encouraged through incentives
  • An expansion of the DOE loan guarantee fund to the commercial sector could promote energy codes as well as encouraging the ability of manufacturers to do retrofits
  • Allow states to set up revolving loan funds
  • Promotion of energy efficiency throughout government

Here are some highlights from the panelists’ presentations:

  • Energy codes are minimum requirements that builders must meet to ensure that homes meet energy efficiency standards. They are an energy performance baseline.
  • The building sector currently consumes 40 percent of U.S. energy and emits 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions, making the demand for energy codes vital.
  • Energy codes can reduce energy in buildings, save consumers money on energy in buildings, improve comfort in buildings, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.
  • Energy code criteria includes: wood-burning fireplaces must have gasketed doors; a home with a forced-air furnace heating system must have a programmable thermostat; and an energy certificate ensuring energy efficiency measures have been met.
  • Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) was organized in 1994 to assist states in adopting and implementing building energy codes. The International Code Council (ICC) develops and publishes the International Energy Conservation Code™(IECC), which is updated every three years. The most current published version is the 2012 IECC. The language in the IECC is adopted and enforced through state legislation.
  • New Hampshire is an example of a state that has adopted IECC energy codes and enacted a program with an overall goal of reaching 90 percent compliance with IECC 2009 standards by 2017. This program provides workshops, code official surveys, and field guides in order to promote compliance.
  • Energy code education and awareness can be promoted through training, code books, voting for legislation that provides for and sustains energy codes, and expansion of knowledge to other sectors including realtors, appraisers, and insurers.
  • There were 5,086 respondents to the Consumer Union/Building Codes Assistance Project Survey comprising: 50 percent males and 50 percent females; aged 18+; about two thirds own homes. An example of some of the results produced by the survey:
  1. Homeowners have a right to a home that meets minimum energy efficiency standards (82 percent)
  2. Energy codes add to the purchase price of a new home and effectively lower monthly operating costs (74 percent)
  3. Energy codes should be enforced like other safety and quality standards of construction (75 percent)
  4. Seventy-nine percent would rather pay slightly more for a new home and have affordable, predictable operating costs and energy bills

Consumer/constituent views on buildings and energy issues will be useful to know as Members of the House and Senate consider a variety of policy proposals in this second session of the 112th Congress, including FY 2013 appropriations for the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program (SEP) and Building Technologies Program; tax incentives for investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency; and legislation designed to spur cost effective investments in energy efficiency. In the Senate, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011 (S. 1000), introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), has received committee approval and is now awaiting floor action. In the House, Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) have introduced the Smart Energy Act (H.R. 4017).