The Future of Energy Codes in 2017

2017 will be a year of change. But what does this mean for building energy codes – the “rules of the road” for the features of homes and buildings that affect their energy use? Will the increasing rigor of energy codes over the last 10 years grind to a halt, or even reverse course? Will some jurisdictions go in their own direction to achieve energy and cost savings? And if you deal with construction at the regional or national level, what are the best strategies to navigate the huge matrix of different codes to your advantage?

Our crystal ball can’t nail down all of the answers, but there are definitely some things we can be pretty certain about for 2017…

The recently finalized 2018 International Energy Code (IECC) – a model energy code available for states and jurisdictions to adopt – will introduce some important new changes. Small but significant efficiency gains include lower U values for windows in Climate Zones 3-8. The most notable change in the 2018 IECC residential section might be the revised HERS score targets required by the Energy Rating Index (ERI) compliance path. This change shifts the HERS targets upward (less efficient) by 5-8 HERS points – making this high-flexibility compliance path much more likely to be used. Although this may look like a step back in efficiency, the ERI path still remains more efficient than the other residential compliance path options. Also, a change passed that allows ducts buried under attic insulation to be considered as located in conditioned space, but the provision requires extremely aggressive duct tightness levels. While most states won’t move on the 2018 IECC next year, a few will start the adoption process.

We’ll also see a lot of states ramping up construction under the 2015 IECC based on their recent adoptions of this code. The map shows states which will build under the 2015 IECC in 2017 (several with their own state amendments added on). For residential construction this means a major emphasis on envelope air sealing as well as providing fresh air through mechanical ventilation. The 2015 IECC also contains an ERI pathway based on a HERS score, which will drive the use of high efficiency HVAC and water heating equipment to hit the necessary scores. For commercial buildings – LED lighting is becoming the industry standard and the energy code is setting more stringent lighting power densities. In addition, daylighting and lighting control requirements are driving new technologies to the forefront.

Other states will also continue to develop their codes to make buildings more efficient and less costly to operate. For example California’s new Title 24-2016 code goes into effect January 1, 2017 while the state is already working on the next version of this code which is targeting zero energy for residential buildings. While some states increase the stringency of their codes, we’ll also have states that stand pat with their current energy standards or even consider amendments to increase trade off flexibility. And, let’s not forget home-rule states where jurisdictions are responsible for adopting and amending their own version of the code; about 20% of the states fall into this bucket.

Utilities are also engaged in energy codes for buildings, with an increasing number pursuing strategies like training and technical support to achieve better compliance. Improved energy code compliance means reduced consumption and peak loads, which can contribute to utility Demand Side Management goals.

The one absolute certainty for 2017 is change at all levels: national, state, and local.


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