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ADJUSTING TO STRICTER CODES
Mandating Efficiency05
After flatlining for years, energy codes are now attempting to drive the building industry to new heights of efficiency. How are builders adapting? And how can the code community help them? BY CHARLES WARDELL
When the 2012 International Energy Code goes into effect next year, its will be an approximate 28% improvement over the 2006 code. That jump in efficiency is unprecedented. While the late 80’s saw gains of around 10%, things hit a plateau from 1991 through 2008, a span of 17 years that saw a total of only 6% improvement in building energy efficiency, despite the fact that codes are updated every three years.


The pace picked up with the introduction of the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The new code, driven in part by energy reduction goals set by the Department of Energy, raised the efficiency of new buildings by about 13% compared to the 2006 version. The 2012 code aims at another 15%.


With things changing so quickly, we wanted to find out the concerns of the code community. We spoke with people involved with writing the IECC, as well as inspectors charged with enforcing it and training builders. We found that they, like builders, feel pressured to keep up. While all support the goal of more efficient, sustainable buildings, some question whether the timetables set for meeting those goals give builders enough time to adjust.


What’s Changed
The 2009 code improved efficiency in part by adding specifi city to what had been stated in general terms. For instance, it required that half of new lighting fixtures be hard-wired high-efficacy fixtures (LEDs or CFLs), and added specific requirement for sealing HVAC ducts as well as the building envelope. “In the past, the code was relatively ambiguous on how to air seal the building envelope,” says Mike DeWein, technical director at the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP). “That has changed. Now it tells you how to seal—and where.”


The 2012 code will raise insulation levels, set even stricter sealing requirements, raise the high-efficiency fixture requirement to 75%, and disallow the use of building plenums to move air from the HVAC system, among many other new requirements.


Challenges for Builders
Not surprisingly, the new requirements have created some challenges for builders, but those challenges seem to vary according to local construction practices. In Minnesota, Don Sivigny, the state’s energy specialist, finds that getting compliance with the code’s requirements for fresh air can be a challenge, and that the new code will make it more so. That’s because stricter envelope sealing requirements could force builders to stop using exhaust-only ventilation, which relies on a leaky building, and to install full mechanical ventilations with make-up air. He says the state needs to help them understand why this is needed, and how to do it correctly and cost-effectively. “If the builder doesn’t understand the code, we don’t get compliance,” he says.


09.2011
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