Green Building United has a long history advocating for building code adoption in Pennsylvania and the region. In 2017, we played a key role in the adoption of the 2015 codes in Pennsylvania. The outcomes of which not only included bringing the UCC from 2009 to 2015 ICC, but also the creation of a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), increased public engagement opportunities, and most importantly a one-time shot enabling the City of Philadelphia to stretch to 2018 standards before the rest of the state.
As an organization whose membership largely consists of professionals within the building design and construction industries, we know building codes. And there is a long history of building codes being used as a bludgeon against the wide adoption of energy-efficient building design. So, when it was brought to our attention that there are recommendations within the State’s official review and adoption process of the 2021 IECC that backpedals on critical residential and commercial energy efficiency provisions, we kicked into action.
Read on to learn more about the code adoption process and how you can get involved going forward.
To begin with, the building code adoption process is extremely technical and varies state-to-state -- and this doesn’t even touch on the IECC process to develop codes.
Every three years, Pennsylvania considers the latest model building code adopted by the International Code Council. The ICC promulgates several model codes, including the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). In recent years, the IECC has been a key driver of lowering operational emissions, improving indoor air quality, and cutting energy waste in Pennsylvania’s buildings.
In PA, building codes are updated every three years when new editions of the IECC codes are issued. This process is initiated by the Commonwealth’s Review and Advisory Council (RAC). The RAC initiates the adoption process by creating the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) composed of industry and subject matter experts. They begin their own process of review that ultimately leads to a list of recommendations back to the RAC on each provision of the updated code. The RAC then holds public hearings statewide to gather additional public feedback on the new code and the TAC recommendations.
When the RAC’s review and adoption process is completed, their version of the codes gets sent to the Governor and General Assembly who then vote on whether to make it law.
Today, we are two years into the three-year adoption process, and we do not like what we see coming out of the Technical Advisory Committee. So far, we can conclude that the following recommendations water down or call into question key residential and commercial energy efficiency provisions around building envelope construction, Energy Recovery Systems (ERVs) for residential applications, air-sealed outlet boxes, and expanded air leakage testing requirements.
By rolling back many of these provisions, we’re signaling to the state and region that we’re not willing to invest in staying economically competitive, by providing code consistency with our peer states. That it’s not important to save Pennsylvanian’s money on their energy bills.
Pennsylvania’s adoption of the 2021 IECC is more important now than ever. Through recent Inflation Reduction Act funding, the Department of Energy has made available over $1 billion to jurisdictions to support their adoption and implementation of an innovative energy code. This money can be used by PA to help train code officials, modernize systems, and support workforce initiatives. By watering down the 2021 IECC code, we risk state and local agencies losing out on millions of in federal dollars intended to help pay for the quality inspectors and training necessary to ensure built environment can be resilient, energy efficiency, and healthy for the occupants inside
Most importantly, by choosing to not adopt proven and tested energy efficiency provisions, we’re delaying our ability to decarbonize our built environment as quickly as possible to stay safe and resilient in the face of a more erratic climate. In fact, FEMA has recently studied the impact of energy efficient homes and concluded that we can prevent an estimated $140 billion in weather-related damages if homes are updated to the latest code.
Green Building United’s Policy and Advisory Committee will continue to push for the full adoption of the 2021 IECC with no weakening amendments. We’ll be taking the arguments shared here to the hearings and encourage any contributions from our community in this effort. The next RAC hearing will be on February 29th, at 9:00 AM. Feel free to email Daniel Marzec at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in getting involved! We will also be diving more into this effort at our next monthly Coffee Chat, on February 23rd and encourage all to join the conversation.