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Iowa Compliance, Implementation, and Evaluation Workshop Provides Take-Aways for MEEA Staff

On September 19th and 20th, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Energy Codes Program sponsored a Compliance, Implementation, and Evaluation workshop in Des Moines, Iowa.  The audience consisted mainly of local building inspectors and code officials from around Iowa.  Most attendees were interested in learning about best practices for evaluating compliance with the 2009 IECC energy code, which has been adopted as a statewide code in Iowa.

One of the main focuses of the workshop was promoting new software, developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, called Score & Store.  PNNL is encouraging states to begin using this software to make it easier and more consistent when checking for energy code compliance, pursuant to IECC and/or ASHRAE standards.  United States Department of Energy believes the use of this tool has the additional benefit of being able to maintain compliance data in a centralized database.  This data can be used by DOE and each State’s building code agency to track progress and identify areas with needed improvement.  Eventually, this data may be used to verify each State’s plan to achieve 90% compliance with the 2009 IECC, as required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Attendees began by identifying several challenges of achieving compliance with the energy code in various locations in Iowa. In addition to the common issue of lack of resources, the inspectors voiced concerns about not having clear expectations of their responsibilities and the fact that both inspectors and builders do not understand the consequences for non-compliance with the energy code. Other barriers that were discussed included lack of education on the energy code among general contractors, builders, and homeowners, as well as the need for more awareness and training for local code officials.

One of the exceptional features of the new Score & Store software is the integration of existing ResCheck and ComCheck software.  Soon, users will be able to input a completed ResCheck or ComCheck data file into Score & Store, which will then provide a customized checklist that code inspectors can use during their physical inspection to verify compliance.  The checklist includes the various provisions of the IECC or ASHRAE that are relevant to the specific building being inspected.  There is hope that, with practice, this can save time and improve compliance.  At the workshop, Pam Cole of PNNL showed a demonstration of ResCheck and ComCheck and discussed how each will be integrated with Score & Store.

Lastly, the instructors simulated the building inspection process using a Score & Store checklist.  We looked at photographs of a house during various stages of an inspection and discussed when and how the checklist could be used to determine compliance.  The inspectors in attendance shared opinions based on their experiences and how they would deal with various situations in the field. One point of contention was the inclusion on the checklist of an option called ‘Not Observable’ (in addition to choices labeled ‘Complies, ‘Does Not Comply’, and ‘Not Applicable’) for instances when certain provisions could not be verified in the field.  Some inspectors felt this option could amount to a loophole and possibly hurt compliance. We discussed ways to deal with these situations, including relying on approval at the plan review stage, or requiring the builder to show definitive proof of compliance.

There was also a productive discussion to clarify the difference between the code requirements and best practices. We identified various building methods that would technically comply with the energy code, but would be considered dubious construction techniques.  Additionally, the group identified practices that complied with the energy code, but could be disqualified by other provisions of the building code.

Attending this workshop helped MEEA’s building energy codes staff better understand some of the compliance issues faced by code officials and inspectors.  The Score & Store demonstration was useful to see one way DOE is attempting to deal with these issues, and it will be interesting to see whether this tool catches on in Iowa and other states in the Midwest. MEEA will be following this issue closely in the coming year, as energy codes compliance work becomes more of a focus.