Most of the energy consumed by a community is attributed to its buildings. Building energy use can influence the long-term affordability of housing—in some areas low- and moderate-income households can spend 10 percent or more of their monthly income on energy costs or two to three times that of median households. Buildings also represent a significant opportunity to support the achievement of energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals. In communities facing drought conditions, improvements in building performance yield both energy and water savings. Building design also influences how well buildings perform in the face of natural hazards and whether residents can stay in their homes before, during and after a disaster event.
Building energy codes represent an opportunity to influence the energy use and resilience of new and renovated buildings within a community. The International Code Council and ASHRAE develop model energy codes that can provide the basis for energy codes adopted at the state and local levels. These models are updated every three years. Since 2006, the residential provisions of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) developed by the International Code Council have provided nearly 40 percent savings in energy use. Since 2009 the commercial and residential provisions of the IECC saved over 700 million metric tons of CO₂ equivalent emissions (equal to the annual emissions of 187 coal-fired power plants or 150 million passenger vehicles). Between the 2018 and 2021 IECC, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) found that single-family and low-rise residential building improvements represent a 9.4 percent improvement in site energy savings, an 8.7 percent reduction in GHG emissions, savings of $2,320 over the life of a 30-year mortgage and uniform adoption would support over 600,000 jobs.
In addition to the national level savings, DOE completed an analysis for each state and selected cities on what improved codes mean for energy and cost savings and job creation.
Federal Support for Local Implementation of Energy Codes
Congress and DOE have recognized the value of energy codes in meeting federal, state and local priorities and have allocated money to support their effective implementation. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes $45 million annually over the next five years or $225 million total for state, local, tribal and territorial governments to implement new or updated energy codes. With the IIJA funding, DOE has initiated a Resilient and Efficient Codes Implementation (RECI) program. The RECI is likely to expand with additional funding to support the adoption and implementation of the most recent codes and zero energy codes included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) (details on the IRA funding are not yet available).
Following a request for information, DOE issued a notice of intent (NOI) in July that outlines how DOE is likely to formulate the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) under RECI. Based on the NOI, DOE provides broad flexibility in the types of solutions that could be funded and how the project team is organized.
Here are three things that local leaders should know about the Resilient and Efficient Codes Implementation program.
- Communities can use the funding during or after the adoption or update process. For communities on older editions, while updating to the latest code edition is encouraged, it is not required. Any improvement in energy codes is covered, although DOE may prioritize applicants based on the anticipated level of savings above the existing code. The legislation also encourages communities to leverage the funding to meet additional community priorities around resilience, water conservation, workforce development and equity.
- IIJA requires the involvement of a relevant state agency (for example the buildings, housing or environment departments, or the state energy office). Recognizing that in many states code implementation falls to local governments, DOE has taken an approach that would allow support to flow to local governments and help meet their specific needs. Applicants for funding can be either a state agency or a partnership that includes a state agency. The state agency does not need to be the prime applicant or even in the state where the local government is located. This provides a significant opportunity for communities where energy issues are a priority, but the state does not have the same level of interest. Regional efforts or common challenges that cut across communities in multiple states can form the basis for an application.
- DOE’s FOA is expected to be released in October 2022. The deadline for applications has not been announced. Given the uncertainty in the time available to prepare applications, jurisdictions are encouraged to begin identifying their needs and potential partners today. Organizations like the International Code Council are prepared to assist communities in developing a holistic approach to achieving their energy and resilience goals through effective code implementation.
Identifying Solutions for Housing Availability and Affordable Housing
Across communities there are likely common needs—training of code officials, contractors and designers; certification of code officials; and access to code content and commentary. Communities may also have specific needs where innovative solutions may be valuable—including at the intersection with other priorities. For example, implementing remote virtual inspection in rural areas helps facilitate greater compliance, advances the opportunities for off-site construction and increases the availability and affordability of housing, all while improving sustainability.
A few priority topic areas and potential solutions that can be funded under RECI include:
- State and Local Code Adoption: technical assistance on code updates for energy and resilience, conducting impact studies to better understand benefits, and aligning updates with broader energy, sustainability, resilience, equity, or climate goals.
- Workforce Development: training and other incentives to encourage training for practitioners, certification of code officials and code users, training modules for post-secondary schools, and development of apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.
- Implementation and Compliance: development of code implementation plans, developing code compliance software tools, state and local energy code implementation and compliance collaboratives.
- Innovative Approaches: development and implementation of custom, stretch, and zero energy codes, support for circuit rider programs, development and implementation of performance-based energy codes, or development of compliance verification tools.
- Equity, Energy and Environmental Justice: partnerships with disadvantaged communities and underserved populations, implementation of education and training programs targeting and benefitting disadvantaged populations, and providing scholarships to help disadvantaged or underserved interests participate in code development, adoption and implementation processes.
Additional Support for Building Code-Related Activities
The recently passed IRA includes $1 billion in additional funding for state and local governments to support the adoption and implementation of the 2021 IECC and ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2019, as well as stretch codes aimed at achieving net zero energy buildings, including the net zero appendices in the 2021 IECC. Since the IRA passed in August, details on the implementation are not yet available.
Additional federal programs from DOE, such as the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development support code adoption for energy codes and other building codes that enhance a community’s resilience. Further details on code-related funding opportunities and how organizations like the International Code Council can help are available at www.iccsafe.org/federalgrants.
About the Author
Ryan M. Colker is Vice President of Innovation at the International Code Council where he leads the Energy, Resilience and Innovation Center of Focus.