NEEP has been pursuing energy code initiatives at local, state, and regional levels since its inception in 1996. As homes and buildings continue to be one of the largest users of energy in the United States, energy codes work is a strong catalyst for driving down energy use and carbon emissions while improving public health.
This is particularly important in the Northeast. Our region has some of the highest rates and levels of energy burden in the country, meaning energy codes not only improve environmental quality – they also work to promote equity and financial security by saving consumers money.
NEEP’s work, in part, has made the Northeast uniquely focused on advanced energy codes. 2019 saw unprecedented activity surrounding energy code adoption, with all 13 states in the NEEP region engaging in energy code adoption proceedings and several adopting the latest model code and states aligning their codes with state climate goals.
With an increasing number of states adopting the latest model code (2018 IECC) and the next model code, the 2021 IECC, expected to deliver significant gains in energy efficiency for all building sectors, we here at NEEP have identified some critical regional and national trends: what energy codes include, why, and how states approach their adoption, enforcement, and compliance.
- Codes are Starting to Include Electrification Requirements. Several states (MA, NY, VT, NJ, CA) have begun including electrification-ready language in their codes for electric vehicle charging, electric water heaters, battery storage, electric heating/cooling alternatives (heat pumps), and solar panels. This language is included for reasons of decarbonization and electrification, but also because this infrastructure is much more cost-effective if installed during construction rather than as a renovation. It also gives owners flexibility – say, if they buy an electric car or want to install an electric air source heat pump, the infrastructure to install these features is already in place and won’t cost the owner nearly as much upfront. Provisions like these are also included in the 2021 IECC.As a side, emerging trend: several communities are also exploring alternatives to new fossil fuel infrastructure (Brookline, MA; Cambridge, MA; Burlington VT; Berkeley, CA), indicating some areas are thinking about completely decarbonizing new construction.
- The Importance of Code Compliance is Gaining Attention. States and municipalities are working towards taking advantage of the benefits of code compliance and workforce support programs. As they adopt advanced codes, they are realizing that the benefits of those codes only come with high compliance rates, which result directly from supporting the workforce. Many states (including NH, ME, MA, RI, NY, PA, CT in the NEEP region) already have or have recently reached out about model policies and programs, such as code attribution programs or baseline compliance studies, that can help them train their workforce and achieve high compliance rates. Code compliance programs are foundational to advanced energy code performance – they provide states with data on compliance that can inform training efforts and even work towards the adoption of future model code updates by preparing the workforce and achieving cost savings.
- There is Growing Momentum, Regionally and Nationally, towards Advanced Building Energy Codes, High Performance Standards, Stretch Codes, and Zero Energy Codes. With their resilience, health, and financial security benefits gaining appreciation, energy codes and their collective impact and potential to mitigate climate change holds increasing salience. The NEEP region has had exceptional action around energy code adoption and momentum towards zero energy homes and buildings over the past few years. But this trend expands beyond the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. If the 2021 IECC voting results are any indication, this growing support behind advanced energy codes and zero energy is widespread in the face of extreme climate disasters.
NEEP and its partners are extremely excited about these trends towards more efficient, carbon-free building energy codes. But while this momentum is great, we also know it will be a challenge to sustain. State and local adoption of energy codes often faces opposition that characterizes them as unnecessary regulations that slow construction, increase costs, and take away jobs. These arguments contradict the measured impacts of energy codes but nevertheless will be used to limit the efficiency measures included in code updates.
In our efforts to address these arguments and increase knowledge regarding the benefits of advanced energy codes, NEEP has several resources in our 2020 program portfolio in addition to those already available on our website. These resources are designed to reflect these trends and prepare the industry for a decarbonized building sector:
- Our updated toolkits, tracker, and website content reflect the trend towards next-generation home and building performance, the importance of code compliance, and the benefits (energy and other) of energy codes.
- A soon-to-be released Strategic Electrification and Codes Report that will explore how codes can be used to strategically electrify buildings so that they manage peak loads, accommodate new technologies, and are prepared to electrify in the future through provisions that require electric readiness and on-site renewable generation, as described above.
- A new Tracking Code Compliance Brief that will explore how states measure code compliance, how often they do so, and how to best apply that information. To be released this fall, it will provide an overview of the code compliance studies conducted in the region and highlight lessons we can bring forward into future decarbonization of the building sector and training the workforce to make this transition.
- In addition to these, we will have a brief on electronic permitting and a one-pager on existing buildings that will be released over the summer. Relating to decarbonization, these will be introductions on how to transition work to remote and how to tackle the behemoth task of decarbonizing existing buildings. These topics will be of increasing focus in years to come.
As we look towards 2021 and beyond, we want your input on our work. What should our future projects focus on to help our region and country build zero energy buildings at scale? Contact Moses Riley to share your ideas.