Climbing Code

Climbing Code

John Tolva / Flickr

On January 1, Illinois became the second state, after Maryland, to adopt the nation’s strictest energy-efficient building code to date. Mandatory blower door and duct tests and mechanical ventilation are among the provisions now required for new commercial and residential buildings in the Land of Lincoln.

“I’ll be unequivocal,” said Corbett Lunsford, director of the Illinois Association of Energy Raters. “It is the best thing that has ever happened to the building industry in Illinois, except maybe the World’s Fair in 1893.”

In addition to higher r-values for attics and basements, the new code requires homes to undergo performance testing. The stringent new code has irked the Homebuilders Association of Illinois and has spurred more training for home energy raters.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) is updated every three years. First released in July 2011, the 2012 IECC represents a major step forward. Largely based on the New Buildings Institute’s Core Performance Guide, the 2012 IECC requires homes to be 15 percent more energy efficient than did the previous standard.

States may opt to implement their own version of the code or even write their own. All states that received Stimulus money in 2009, however, agreed to ensure 90 percent compliance with at least the 2009 IECC standards, by 2017. Illinois passed an energy efficiency law in 2010 that required its own state code to keep pace with IECC standards, mandating adoption within 18 months of a new code’s release.

The Homebuilders Association of Illinois opposed the 2012 changes, pointing out that the new standards would raise the cost of home construction. A report from the Building Codes Assistance Project, a group advocating energy efficiency, found, however, that while 2012 IECC standards would add about $1,500 to the construction of a new home in northern Illinois, the resulting energy-cost savings would cut back about $400 per year for those homeowners. New home buyers, the report said, would break even after no more than one year and one month after purchase as a result.

The Homebuilders Association’s estimates for additional costs were as high as $5,000. The group also complained that the new standards would add permitting and construction costs that would weigh down builders’ and homeowners’ wallets. HBA successfully lobbied to push back adoption until early this year, but failed to secure a six-year interval between new codes.

Several organizations, including state agencies, provided free training for contractors on the new standards throughout 2012. That training continues into 2013.

By some estimates, buildings are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption. The Alliance to Save Energy estimated in 2010 that if all states adopted the 2012 IECC and achieved full compliance by 2013, that action would avert about 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year by 2030—more than the annual emissions from 56 coal plants. The Alliance report also projected that annual energy cost savings would be about $40 billion by 2030.