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New Building Code Framework Sparks Controversy

Neil Strother
Apr 20, 2021

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A new framework for global building codes has entered the marketplace, and not everyone is happy. The recently released framework comes courtesy of the nonprofit International Code Council’s (ICC’s) governing board. The aim of the framework is to help governments and market stakeholders meet energy efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals.

This frameworkLeading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate—encompasses updating a crucial aspect, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Under the new framework, the updated IECC is expected to feature a revised scope and be part of a broad portfolio of GHG reduction solutions for EVs, electrification, decarbonization, integration of renewable energy and storage, and existing building performance standards.

Framework Expected to Include Options for Net-Zero Buildings

In addition, the new framework is anticipated to contain optional requirements for buildings to achieve net-zero energy status in the current timeframe and by 2030. For jurisdictions considering net-zero requirements, the new framework contains flexible options, ranging from a set of minimum requirements to pathways to net zero energy and other GHG reduction policies.

Code Framework Process Raises Hackles

The new framework has raised some hackles, however. Local government officials who had been part of the code-making process have voiced their anger over how they perceive the ICC board stripped them of their voting rights, according to reports. Critics say the decision to strip power from local government officials was made to placate industry stakeholders such as home builders and natural gas utilities.

“This is a classic case of changing the rules in the middle of the game,” says Lauren Urbanek, a senior energy policy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement after the ICC’s new framework was announced. Urbanek adds, “It’s extremely troubling that the ICC board unnecessarily voted to strip the power from local government officials on the very codes they oversee, after they voted overwhelmingly to make our homes and other buildings more energy efficient and avoid harmful pollution from burning fossil fuels inside them.” Other groups have condemned the ICC’s decision, including environmental, clean energy, and trade groups. The US Department of Energy raised concerns, too. 

This feud does not appear to be one that will go away quietly or soon. Government officials express dwindling confidence in the ICC, and there is talk that some states and cities might leave the ICC to organize their own process for setting building energy codes. For stakeholders in this market and the rest of us interested in energy efficient, sustainable, and safe buildings, we need to keep a close watch on how this dispute plays out.