Historic US Vote Makes Buildings 30% More Energy Efficient

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In a historic agreement on Monday, US building officials nationwide have voted to support the first building codes that require 30% more efficient buildings for every state under the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code, the IMT is reporting today.

The IMT (Institute for Market Transformation) has long been working on the market failures that inhibit building sector investment in energy efficiency. Delegates also voted to eliminate the weaker Energy Chapter of the International Residential Code, supplanting it with a single nationwide uniform energy code for residential and commercial buildings.

Although some states, like California, have long had energy efficiency requirements in building codes, with a resulting flat-lining in home energy use in the state since the 1970s (to about half the average US use) most states have little or no requirements for reducing energy use. The International code has been the lowest common denominator; compelling safety, but little else in building codes. The minimum standards allowed energy to be wasted in heating and cooling homes in non compliant states by not requiring weather tight walls, roofs, windows or doors.

Why this affects Cancun:

Buildings are responsible for 38% of US emissions, the IMT notes. As one of the wedges for reducing greenhouse gases, requiring energy efficiency in building codes has long been pushed for by the Obama administration and the Department of Energy climate hawks under Steven Chu – as well as the US Conference of Mayors, the National Association of State Energy Officials, and the broad-based Energy Efficient Codes Coalition.

After Copenhagen, the US had to demonstrate both a willingness and an ability to do its part in reducing greenhouse gases. But the Senate was not able to overcome Republican clean energy filibuster to pass the House climate bill.

However, if enough other legislation has the same effect overall, the promised 17% reduction in greenhouse gases can be achieved, anyway.

“It is notable that the votes that will have the most profound impact on national energy and environmental policy this year weren’t held in Washington or a state capital, but by governmental officials assembled by the International Code Council (ICC) in Charlotte, NC,” said William Fay, Executive Director of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition.

Meets Copenhagen promise:

With today’s nationwide agreement, the US could now even meet its Copenhagen promise to reduce greenhouse gases 17% by 2020, regardless of the stalemate in the Senate.

That is because today’s agreement can be added together with an assortment of other actions (EPA actions, local pollution reduction programs, Obama fuel efficiency rules, the Executive Order on greenhouse gases, the 28% reduction in Federal GHGs, the nationwide appliance efficiency agreement, renewable energy requirements in 30 states) to achieve the same goal.

“This is a big deal!” said Cliff Majersik, Executive Director of IMT. “Most new buildings are built to the code – no better and no worse. These changes to the model energy code will slash pollution from power plants and furnaces while saving Americans billions of dollars in energy bills.”

How likely is it that all of the states will implement this?

Under the terms of the Recovery Act (ARRA), every state that accepted State Energy Program funding had to commit to 90% energy code compliance by 2017.  Virtually every state did accept this assistance, even Wyoming with virtually no building code on the books for energy efficiency (in fact its funding ran out in record time, Wyoming homeowners were so eager to cut their energy costs). That means almost every state will now require efficient buildings.

The new rule affects both commercial and residential buildings. Allowing for regional climate differences, architects and builders will be able to choose which ways to make their buildings use less energy, for example,  by adding renewable energy like solar on rooftops, using more efficient lighting, or increasing weather proofing. But the 30% gain must be reached.

What will be the benefit to you?

“The average homeowner spends more than $2,000 a year on energy bills, more than what they pay for home
insurance or property taxes,” said Caroline Keicher, Program Associate at IMT. “These are not theoretical savings.
This is real money in the pockets of homeowners and a critical step toward making home ownership more

The rules ensure:

• Better sealing and ventilation to reduce heating and cooling losses,
• Higher efficiency in windows and skylights,
• More effective insulation in ceilings, walls, and foundations,
• Reduction in wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts,
• Improved hot-water distribution systems,
• Increased lighting efficiency.

Every dollar spent on code compliance yields a six-fold payoff in energy savings, saving American consumers an eventual $10.2 billion annually.

Image: Online Code Enforcement and Advocacy Network
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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