What do codes people talk about at dinner parties? Regional codes trends, of course.
Unfortunately, collegial dinner gatherings still seem a ways off; in place of meeting you in the hotel lobby, we have outlined our Top 10 regional codes trends of the year. We initially discussed these trends at our fourth quarter regional codes working group online meeting. Each codes team member shared a trend they saw as leading in relevancy this past year and into 2022.
The Top Trends (with details below):
- Building performance standards (BPS)
- Returning to in-person codes meetings
- Remote virtual inspections (RVI)
- The 2021 IECC as a springboard to zero energy-ready buildings
Other Noteworthy Trends Rounding Out the Top 10:
- Prefabricated construction
- The nexus of code adoption and insurance writing
- Grid-connected appliances
- Air emissions standards for appliances
- Zero energy stretch codes
- Municipal zoning regulations to address emissions
Here's What the Staff Says:
Kai Palmer Dunning: Building Performance Standards
are an essential tool for municipalities and states to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions in medium-large existing commercial and multifamily buildings. Many states benchmark their buildings to gather data on the energy baselines of their existing building stock, but BPS takes it a step further by setting periodic targets for buildings to improve energy performance over time. Jurisdictions like , , and have implemented BPS to support their jurisdictional decarbonization goals.
As jurisdictions focus on BPS, it is important that they also consider how these standards align with building energy codes. An important consideration for states and local jurisdictions is ensuring that BPS and the code are moving at the same pace, or at least in coordination. In other words, the energy performance targets in BPS shouldn't outpace the energy efficiency of the code. Otherwise, new buildings built to code will need to be retrofitted far sooner to stay on pace with the local BPS. This can add unreasonable costs to projects and make compliance infeasible for building owners. As the trend to implement BPS increases in jurisdictions around the region, code alignment and other considerations should be addressed early in the process.
Andrea Krim: In-Person v. Virtual Hearings
In response to COVID-19, NEEP states have implemented virtual code board hearings and live broadcasts of hearings to continue the code adoption process during the pandemic. Many stakeholders benefit from virtual code board hearings because they can attend without driving far distances, missing work, or needing childcare. Virtual hearings also allow individuals who were never able to participate in hearings before to have the opportunity to voice their opinions to their elected officials about building energy codes. Virtual hearings are a good way to bring equity to the code process. However, one trend we are seeing now is that states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire are returning to in-person hearings that are not broadcast to the public. Some reasons for returning to in-person hearings could be the technical costs of broadcasting and facilitating virtual hearings and states wanting to return to traditional hearing requirements.
While there are costs and benefits to both in-person hearings and virtual ones, states must think about how code board hearings impact equity in the codes process. Virtual hearings can be a tool to create a more equitable, transparent code process. They can create more buy-in for updated codes since it is easier for more stakeholders to be included throughout the adoption process. NEEP recommends that states must consider the use of publicly-broadcasted or virtual hearings in the code adoption process to encourage greater stakeholder engagement.
Corneila Wu: Remote Virtual Inspections
New technology has made it possible to conduct code inspections remotely, either partially or entirely. This practice, referred to as uses video cameras, still photographs, video networking software, and drones to conduct a home or building inspection remotely rather than conducting it on-site. Interviews and surveys revealed that if a jurisdiction began to use RVI, it was most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.,
Drones offer an ideal opportunity for remote inspections. They can quickly capture detailed footage of areas that may be time-consuming and dangerous to physically access, especially if climbing or crawling is involved. In addition to images and video, some drones utilize mapping tools, GPS units, and thermal cameras that help permanently document the inspection area. But, drones also require inspectors to be conscious of private property and search laws. The International Code Council (ICC) is currently convening stakeholders in an attempt to address these and other RVI barriers. Shortages of building code inspectors are increasing as current inspectors retire. Therefore, workforce training opportunities exist. All signs seem to indicate that the future of RVI is malleable and will likely be used in a hybrid fashion in a post-COVID world.
Darren Port: The 2021 IECC as a Linchpin Code
The International Code Council (ICC) estimates that the new requires buildings to be about than the previous edition. The 2021 provides increased envelope insulation values, zero energy appendixes, increases in lighting efficacy, a revised ERI approach, HVAC testing requirements, requirements complying with "flex packages," and other vital things residential and commercial updates. While electrification and decarbonization amendments were excluded, the 2021 IECC still provides a solid point for designers and builders to provide the market with zero energy-ready homes. In 2022, NEEP will be providing concerted technical assistance to the region toward adopting this linchpin code.
The ICC has committed to getting the model energy code to zero energy by ; what zero energy means is yet undefined. In anticipation that the successive three cycles of the IECC will be increasingly more energy efficient and perceived as more expensive and challenging with which to comply, we anticipate that many states will hesitate to adopt future versions of the IECC. States may move to six-year cycles, skip cycles, remain on legacy codes, or weaken the code. These notions have us believe that it is vital that states adopt the 2021 IECC to assure new buildings are energy efficient, healthy, and resilient.
Currently, in the NEEP region, eight states are in the process of reviewing (NY, MD, VT, DC, RI) or formally adopting (MA, CT, NJ) the 2021 IECC. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE), 18 states across the country are in the process of adopting the 2021 IECC. However, U.S. DOE offers the caveat that some will do so with weakening amendments. On the flip side of weakening, Connecticut, which in the past two cycles included weakening amendments, has committed to the 2021 adoption as written. Massachusettes will add strengthening amendments; MA will adopt a stretch code and a municipal opt-in zero code, all predicated on 2021 as a starting point. Vermont views the 2021 as the jumping-off point towards a statewide zero energy base code. Maine has adopted the 2021 as a statewide stretch code, and we anticipate other states will follow suit. Both U.S. DOE and NEEP are available to support the adoption of the 2021 IECC in your state through technical assistance and providing resources. Here are a couple of helpful resources:
See You in 2022!
NEEP plans to develop resources and initiatives to further inform our stakeholders about these trends and other topic areas in 2022. Let us know what trends you are seeing in 2022 or have seen in 2021.