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The reasons for these disparities are part budgetary, part philosophical.


Everyone we spoke with voiced some frustration over budgets. (We caught up with Sivigny on June 30, the day before the Minnesota state government shut down over a budget impasse.) With many building departments losing revenue, there aren’t enough field inspectors for even a reduced volume of construction. “The building department’s revenue is fee-based, and with less construction, there are fewer fees to collect,” says Rich Chien, a Green Building coordinator with the City of San Francisco, which enforces an energy code and a green building code. The city has come up with a stopgap solution that gives builders the option of paying a third-party reviewer to certify compliance. He says that most builders take it, because it costs less than stopping production while waiting for an overextended city inspector.


Where budgets are tight and building departments understaffed, inspectors have to choose which provisions to enforce. Energy usually isn’t at the head of the line. “A lot of building departments see their main responsibility as life safety, so when there isn’t enough time [to enforce everything], energy by nature takes a back seat,” says Kanipe, who, in addition to his Aspen duties, trains code officials in a number of states on the IECC. For instance, he finds that a lot of inspectors don’t enforce the code’s requirements that the HVAC contractor do a heat loss calculation when sizing the heating and cooling equipment. “Their attitude is that no one is going to die” if the building has a higher than expected heating bill.


Some believe that the best way to address this is to moderate the pace of change somewhat. For instance, DeWein says he has heard many regulators and builders suggest that a six-year cycle would be worth considering, and might improve compliance.


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