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Review of the Rocky Mountain Institute Blog: Nice House, But Is It Legal?

Building and energy codes have become more and more stringent as we begin to realize the savings potential and the need for greater healthy and safety of occupants of these dwellings. Slowly but surely, states and jurisdictions are beginning to adopt some form of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the latest version of the most widely adopted energy code in the US. Although some states choose to modify the code to suit their specific needs, the basic essence of energy savings in generally preserved and will potentially save the homeowners money which can be saved and used elsewhere thus helping stimulate the economy.

A recent post on The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) blog “Nice House, But Is It Legal” points out the fact that some of the houses that are being designed and built today to “code”, the lowest standards a building can be built to, will not be legal to build in a few years. James Brew, the author of the blog, points out that residential energy codes had not changed much before the 2006 IECC was published. Now, the code has finally begun to play catch up and energy codes are moving forward at a rapid pace and will have possibly improved by as much as 50% by the publication of the 2015 IECC.

One of the major issues highlighted in the blog is the issue of increased cost with the increased stringency of the code. Mention a code update or change in stringency and undoubtedly you have drawn a line in the sand with many strong supporters on both sides. Advocates will argue that any cost associated with updating the code will be small and that the money saved by the homeowners through energy efficiency will soon pay back any initial upfront costs.

Homebuilders will immediately dispute this claim and say that the opposite is true and that the additional costs will be significant and depress the housing market even further. Personally, having run energy analysis here at MEEA, I can see that there are significant savings to be claimed from the increase in code stringency, and I have calculated the costs to update the energy code. I have found that, while there is a cost associated with a more stringent code, in the long run the savings will continue as the price of fuel and electricity increase which will save the homeowner money and increase their comfort in the place they have chosen to invest in as part of their future.

The RMI has launched its Superefficient Housing Initiative, which it says “seeks to mainstream superefficiency in new residential design and construction, aiming to deliver housing that is at least 60 percent more efficient than today’s code at comparable costs.” They believe that the right time to implement new techniques and ideas is during this slow time when building new homes is at a slower rate, which makes sense. While the blog goes into more detail and mentions Passivhaus energy standards, I will not discuss these in this post.