The 2015 version of the International Energy Conservation Code is soon to be upon you.
Modern building codes are most often adopted by local government legislative bodies and as such vary from place to place. The IECC is in use or adopted in 47 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York City and Puerto Rico.
By way of background, the International Building Code, as published by the International Code Council establishes “the minimum requirements to safeguard the public health, safety and general welfare …” The ICC also developed the IECC, encouraging energy conservation through efficiency in design, mechanical systems, and lighting systems. An energy conservation code is a major expansion from the life safety mission of building codes. Many suggest that the IECC has had much more impact on high performance building than has LEED.
The IECC 2009 is widely adopted across this country because a commitment to adopt it was a precondition to states receiving stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 from the federal government.
There is an IECC 2012, but its adoption has been slow because its energy efficient performance is about 30% higher than the 2009 code, which is a significant increase. More than half of the country is currently under the 2009 IECC. Now the IECC 2015, with 77 changes from the 2012 version, has been published and is ready to be adopted. It is published in a single volume with ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2013 Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Building.
On January 1, 2015, the State of Maryland became the first state to adopt the 2015 IECC with local government adoption and enforcement required throughout the state by July 1, 2015.
In terms of overall energy impact, the 2015 IECC is only negligibly different than the 2012 version. It is, however, accepting that there is no one homogenous building type, a slightly more than 1% better energy impact for commercial building than the 2012 IECC.
Many are being heard to argue that the time, inconvenience and expense of implementing a new code with only a slightly more than 1% better energy impact is unwise.
A U.S. Department of Energy technical analysis of the 2015 version determined only about 6 of the 77 total changes actually increase energy savings. The vast majority, that is, over 60 of the changes require new materials and methods but are energy neutral and 3 arguable have a detrimental effect on energy savings.
But because the DOE has determined the revised code improves energy efficiency in residential buildings, even ever so modestly, states are statutorily required to certify that they have reviewed their residential building code regarding efficiency, and made a determination as to whether it is appropriate for such state to revise their code to meet or exceed the provisions of the successor code. This only applies to residential codes.
There is no doubt that, in large measure because of adoptions of energy codes, energy efficiency has increased significantly. With a goal of reducing energy use, energy codes are of great import to green building. Critics have, however, effectively questioned the efficacy of using a mandatory code, that is little known and rarely debated burdening real estate with addressing a single societal issue (without balancing matters of resilience, public safety, etc.), and pointing out that this all looks a lot like establishing a national energy standard for every building.
Whatever, your perspective on legislatively mandated continued reduction in building energy use, be aware that the 2015 version of the IECC, including the required changes in building systems and products and the associated increases in first costs, may soon be upon you.