After months of work on the details, building officials from across the US met for the meeting of the International Code Council (ICC) in Charlotte, NC recently to approve final action for the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This new 2012 model energy code for new homes and commercial buildings is expected to improve energy efficiency in structures by as much as 30 percent.

The U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of State Energy Officials, Members of Congress and the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC) had all urged the building officials to come together around a uniform code to replace the older and much weaker energy code now in use.

State and Local governments have long used uniform building codes to streamline compliance, reduce building costs and create uniform standards for the building industry.  While the codes originally covered construction methods, electrical and plumbing standards new code improvements are focused on energy efficiency and building performance.  California was one of the first states to adopt stringent energy efficiency codes back in the 1970’s and that experience has had a major impact of the acceptance of the need for such codes.  California’s energy intensity today is fully 50% LESS than the national average.  The new uniform energy codes approved in Charlotte build on that experience and update it for best practices, changes in building methods and energy efficiency product performance.

Federal stimulus requirements also pushed for better energy efficiency codes by mandating that states that accepted US DOE State Energy Program funding comply 90% with these standards by 2017. Since almost every state in the US accepted these funds, new buildings almost everywhere in the country will be bound to the new standards. The action by the building officials moves up the effective date of the new code to 2012 so states can adopt it sooner.

Why does this matter?

Under today’s building codes residential buildings consume 21% of the energy consumed in the US, and produce 38% of greenhouse emissions.  The building officials say the new uniform code will save Americans money, reduce wasted energy and control greenhouse case emissions without changing the way we live or work.

The US government officials at the conference praised the action by the building officials as another important step in enabling the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  They cited other administrative actions the Obama Administration was taking to reduce emissions despite the failure of Congress to pass the Waxman-Markey Bill enabling the US could to meet its Copenhagen promise to reduce greenhouse gases 17% by 2020.

Those other Obama Administration actions include: EPA actions, local pollution reduction programs, Obama fuel efficiency rules, the Executive Order on greenhouse gases, the 28% reduction in Federal GHGs, the nationwide appliance efficiency agreement, and the renewable energy portfolio standards requirements in 30 states.

The California experience with energy efficiency codes demonstrates that they are a cost effective way to reduce wasted energy, improve energy productivity and efficiency.  It the rest of the nation had followed California’s lead in this one area 30 years ago we would have a vastly different energy footprint today.

There is a certain irony that Californians returned Jerry Brown to the Governor’s office in time to adopt these new uniform codes to complete the circle California started when he was first Governor.

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