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Shifting Sands: Top 10 Code Issues

Posted by Mike Collignon

Mar 18, 2013 2:51:00 PM

1. ALASKA

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
A free online checklist is available for Alaskan homebuyers that would help them determine if their new homes meet important energy efficiency standards. Additionally, the tool helps owners of existing homes. Using the checklist, they can view a list of efficiency improvements they can achieve through renovation.

“You wouldn’t think something as simple as a checklist would be such a valuable resource,” says Dan Fauske, CEO of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC). “But this tool provides peace of mind, and can identify energy savings that total in the thousands of dollars.” Combining the checklist with participation in the Home Energy Rebate Program offered by AHFC, homeowners can earn up to $10,000 in reimbursement for energy efficiency investments.

The checklist was developed by the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) and supported by the AHFC and Cold Climate Housing Research Center. It is available at http://tinyurl.com/a96glxl.

OBSERVATION(S):
Alaska’s energy code, known as the Alaska Building Energy Efficiency Standard (BEES), is based on the 2009 IECC, with some state specific amendments. Since the state is in climate zones 7 and 8, it’s completely understandable that they would make modifications to an energy code written mostly for the lower 48 states. They don’t have a set code update cycle, but they last updated in March 2011, so they’re doing just fine, compared to the rest of the United States. Understanding that the codes are a baseline from which to work, it’s great to see this tool in combination with a sizable incentive to improve the energy efficiency of all homes.
FYI: BCAP has created a state-specific checklist for eight other states: AL, ID, KY, MI, MO, NE, PA & TX.

2. ALABAMA (update)

HISTORY
In March 2010, the Alabama Energy and Residential Codes (AERC) Board was given authority to adopt mandatory residential and commercial energy codes for the entire state and residential building codes for jurisdictions that had not implemented a residential building code prior to March 2010. At that time, the state had a voluntary code for residential, based on the 2000 IECC. Additionally, since December 2008, the 2006 IECC was encouraged (though not mandated) for private commercial buildings. Finally, the state building commission enforces the 2007 version of ASHRAE 90.1 for all state municipal buildings.
GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
Alabama’s first mandatory statewide energy code went into effect on October 1, 2012.
Approved by the AERC Board, the commercial code is based on the 2009 IECC.
The residential energy code is based on Chapter 11 of the 2009 IRC, but with amendments. These amendments include:
– Deleted the section on exposed foundation insulation
– Substituted Table 402.1.1 Insulation & Fenestration Requirements by Component from the 2009 IECC
– Deleted the section on slab-on-grade floors
– Deleted the section on programmable thermostats
– Ducts in unconditioned space must be insulated to a minimum R-6 until July 2013 when it increases to minimum R-8.
– Duct leakage test is not required prior to July 2013. Acceptable leakage rates vary from 4 cfm/100 s.f. to 12 cfm/100 s.f., depending on a number of variables. However, there is an exception within this amendment. It reads: “Duct tightness test is not required if the air handler and all ducts are located within conditioned space.”
– Deleted the mandatory section on pools
– Deleted the section on pool heaters
– Deleted the section on time switches
– Deleted the section on pool covers

OBSERVATION(S):
If you recall, Alabama was hit by five tornadoes sized EF-4 or higher during a four-day span in April 2011. Dozens perished and over 1,000 people were injured. The property damage incurred was massive, and the recovery process will take quite some time. These updated energy codes will affect thousands of structures, and help the citizens of Alabama recover in a much more sustainable fashion.

3. DALLAS, TX

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
The City Council of Dallas, Texas has mandated the use of the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) for all new construction starting in 2013. Additions will also be governed by the newly adopted code, though renovations are exempt. The City Council acted on the recommendation of the Green Building Task Force, which is comprised of industry stakeholders and registered City of Dallas voters, who serve as a third party.

OBSERVATION(S):
There is a green wave moving through the major municipalities in Texas. In our last issue, we highlighted Austin and El Paso’s movement to the 2012 IECC. By adopting the IgCC, Dallas is in effect adopting the 2012 IECC, as well as introducing provisions for sustainable construction. It is a bold and welcome stance from a major US city.

4. CHATTANOOGA, TN

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
The city recently adopted a number of I-Codes, including the 2012 IRC, 2012 IBC and the 2009 IECC, with strengthening amendments and provisions for both residential and commercial construction. Starting on January 2, 2013, the city will no longer accept plans drawn to the 2006 IBC and 2006 IECC, which was the previous code.

OBSERVATION(S):
It seems odd that the city would adopt a lower energy code than their building codes. We suspected the usual HBA resistance, so we called the city’s building code department. We were told it was a combination of two things: the HBA of Greater Chattanooga was opposed to the 2012 IECC and “common sense.” The gentleman who spoke to us said the homebuilders claimed that moving from R-38 to R-47 attic insulation would have caused them to build their homes differently. He also felt that homes in Chattanooga “didn’t need the same amount of insulation in the attic as Detroit.”

For what it’s worth, based on their website, the HBAGC does not have a Green Building Committee and does not appear to be advancing the ICC 700, either. (They do, however, list a Golf Committee on their chapter’s website.)

5. CLAY COUNTY, MO

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
Located northeast of Kansas City, Clay County recently became the first county in the KC metro area to move to the 2012 I-Codes. They adopted the 2012 IRC and the 2012 IBC, but made weakening amendments to Chapter 11 (energy efficiency) such that it will be roughly equivalent to the 2009 IECC. “The ICC rightfully wanted to ramp up the standard on minimum energy-efficiency measures in a single-family house. It needs to be done,” said Matt Tapp, Planning and Zoning Department director.

Clay County (est. pop. 221,000) follows Kansas City and Overland Park, Kan., as the third jurisdiction in the area to adopt some of the 2012 I-Codes and had previously been operating under codes set in 2003. “We took what Overland Park did and formatted it for Clay County,” Tapp said. “They really blazed the trail.”

In addition to improved codes, the county created a “Green Build Incentive Program.” It appears to incentivize builders to use the NAHBGreen Program (also known as the ICC 700), as it provides building permit rebates. Rebate percentages are assessed on where a project scores on the program’s four levels. Fifty percent of the rebate is repaid at the Bronze level, up to a 100% rebate at Emerald. “It’s our way of helping out and trying to promote and foster a higher level of green build(ing),” Tapp says.

OBSERVATION(S):
Similar to Arizona, Missouri is a home rule state and does not have a statewide building or energy code. However, there seems to be momentum on both the western and eastern sides of the state to adopt (at least) the 2009 IECC.

Of particular interest here is the incentive program that “endorses” NAHB’s green building program. There’s been much discussion at the national level of improved codes and their effect on the proprietary green building programs. Clay County is an example of the two co-existing and benefiting the homebuilding industry.

6. GLENDALE, AZ

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
On October 23, Glendale, Arizona’s city council voted to adopt the 2012 IECC. Glendale became the 20th jurisdiction in the state of Arizona to move to the 2012 IECC (with minor amendments). The city adopted all the 2012 I-Codes, along with the 2011 National Electrical Code, with an effective date of December 1, 2012. They had been operating under the 2006 I-Codes, with amendments, since June 26, 2007.

The City Council shared the code adoption proposal with many industry groups, including the local HBA and AIA chapters. Suggestions for minor amendments were made and incorporated, but the city did not receive any opposition or negative feedback.
Due to the update, the city’s Building Safety Department will maintain its compliance with the Insurance Service Office criteria by adopting current and nationally recognized standards, ultimately lowering insurance rates and assisting in attracting new businesses to the city.

OBSERVATION(S):
This is just another example of the energy efficiency wave sweeping through Arizona. We’re happy to report that all involved were on board with the update, and there wasn’t the usual resistance, prolonged debate and watering down of the code. Hopefully communities like Glendale can serve as a model for many other jurisdictions in the state and beyond.

7. NEW YORK

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
Long Island, New York was the site of major damage following Hurricane Sandy. As the long recovery process gets underway, nine communities will have a new compliance option for their energy codes. The following towns have incorporated the HERS Index into their building energy codes: Brookhaven, Babylon, Hempstead, Huntington, Islip, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay, Riverhead and Southampton.

OBSERVATION(S):
With the amount of reconstruction needed, building code departments will be overwhelmed with the need for inspections. By extension, this permits HERS raters to speed the recovery process along, while maintaining the integrity of the energy code and ensuring that energy efficiency will not be overlooked.

8. VAIL, CO

GENERAL CODE INFORMATION:
The town adopted the 2012 IECC in early November after holding public hearings over a nine-month span to review changes and updates from previously adopted building codes. Vail’s Building and Fire Appeals Board, who hosted the hearings, added provisions to the code that address construction practices unique to the community. Their new energy code will go into effect in January 2013. Vail updates its building codes every three years.

OBSERVATION(s):
Similar to Hawaii, Vail’s economy is dependent on tourism. By regularly updating their building and energy codes every three years, they are doing what they can to preserve their most precious asset: nature.

9. COLORADO

MARKET INFORMATION:
The Colorado Department of Housing recently upgraded from the 2006 IECC to the 2012 IECC for newly manufactured modular housing in the state. Since modular housing is built in a factory to the respective state’s adopted building and energy codes, it falls outside the qualifications for HUD housing.

As we stated in our last report, most Colorado building codes are adopted on the local level, with a few exceptions. Modular housing represents one of those exceptions. The Department of Local Affairs adopts building codes for manufactured and modular housing in all jurisdictions, in addition to hotels, motels and multi-family housing in jurisdictions without building codes in place.

OBSERVATION(s):
Modular housing only represented 2% of all new single family housing starts in 2011. A factory setting should, and usually does, contribute to higher quality control. Still, it’s good to see Colorado expecting a high standard for these homes.

10. HAZELWOOD, MO

GENERAL ENERGY CODE INFORMATION:
The City of Hazelwood, Missouri adopted the 2009 IECC and the 2009 IRC in early November. A single amendment was made, changing basement insulation requirements to only apply if there are four feet or more of above-ground exposure. Hazelwood, which is a suburb of St. Louis, had been enforcing the 2003 code.

OBSERVATION(S):
Basements are common and, frankly, expected in the St. Louis area. There’s a mix of traditional (completely below-grade), lookout and walk-out basements in the region, with an occasional slab-on-grade or crawlspace. Their lone amendment will apply to the lookout and walk-out foundations. With frost lines in the region ranging from 18-30”, the rationale for the amendment may be that there’s too much exposure that is not insulated by soil a vast majority of the year.

But this amendment is really a bad idea. A fair amount of people finish their subterranean space, so it’s disappointing that insulation isn’t called for on the entire wall. It would greatly increase the comfort of those bonus spaces, as concrete has a very low R-value. For example, in winter, the air temperature might be 20˚F. The exposed portion of that wall would be of similar temperature. The first foot of the wall below grade would be warmer, but might still be in the 30-40˚F range. One could feasibly have a basement wall where the top four feet are transferring temperatures of 30˚F or less. There’s either a substantial heating load needed to offset that, or else the homeowner lives with a cold basement. Conversely, during the cooling season, there is the potential for condensation to form as humid air condenses on the cool surface. Unmanaged moisture in a home is a great way to implement mold growth.


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