Protecting Consumers With Energy Codes

February 24, 2014 | Chris Potter

It has been six years since the global financial crisis struck—yet tens of millions of Americans are still recovering, shouldering the costs of irresponsible lenders and purveyors of the real estate bubble. While wages have stagnated since the 1970s, the costs of groceries, health care, taxes, and fuel for our homes and vehicles have all increased, making it important for all homeowners to curb high utility bills—the second largest expense next to mortgage payments.

Unfortunately, many homes and buildings in the U.S. hemorrhage energy and erode potential saving benefits simply by not being built to standards of modern building energy codes. Compliance with energy codes from state to state is lacking in many cases and even as low as zero percent in some jurisdictions. 

Like many worthwhile initiatives today, compliance efforts at all levels of government suffer from strained budgets. With tightened belts, building departments and code officials that put their efforts into educating the building community can go a long way towards progress. IMT has seen this first hand through its codes work and through its Standard Bearers award program. The 2012 Energy Code Champion, Gil Rossmiller in Parker, Colo., educated the town’s building community and integrated energy code enforcement into their existing processes, reducing opposition toward more rigorous code enforcement by demonstrating the positive results of home energy ratings.

IMT and other organizations are working hard to help building departments reap the benefits of building to the modern energy code through strategies like streamlining regulatory processes to remove overlap and create more efficient administrative procedures—this can allow departments to be more effective at enforcing construction code requirements while improving customer service and saving money.

And with the passing of a rating-based compliance path (RE188) to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, builders now have greater flexibility to meet the code at a reasonable cost, removing the typical point of conflict between builders and efficiency advocates. With this new option, the time is right for a large national push to increase compliance. Because it doesn’t matter how excellent a standard is if nobody follows it. For those not convinced on the benefits of stronger energy code adoption and compliance, here are some of the more outstanding examples of what energy codes can do:

Save money: Houses built to stronger codes are up to 44 percent more efficient and can save families hundreds of dollars a year on energy costs—money that can make the difference on whether or a family can pay its mortgage. IMT estimates the savings from bringing just a year’s worth of new residential and commercial construction in the U.S. up to full compliance could reach $189 million. This equates to lifetime savings of up to $37.1 billion for just five years' worth of new buildings, helping the economy and reducing carbon emissions.

Protect consumers: One of the objectives for IMT in promoting energy code compliance is to help prevent harm (financial and otherwise) to consumers while advocating for good practices that benefit them, not unlike the role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Ensuring that houses are built up to the modern energy code provides a cushion to unexpected events that could make mortgage repayment more difficult; it protects people from unfair, deceptive, or harmful building practices that can cost families in dollars and safety; it allows them to shelter in place for longer if the power goes out during an ice storm or heat wave; and it ensures they will live in a comfortable and secure home.

Assure quality: An energy code compliant home is one that is safer, more resilient, and has better indoor air quality—something IMT and Britt/Makela addressed in a recent report.

Meet demand for green buildings:  As we see in a new McGraw-Hill study, green building grew even during the recent recession.  It went from 2 percent in 2005 to 23 percent in 2013 and could reach up to 33 percent of the market by 2016. Consumers are also willing to pay more upfront for money-saving green features. A 2012 survey by the National Association of Home Builders found that nine out of ten buyers said an ENERGY STAR rating for their home is “desirable or essential”—even if the home costs 2 to 3 percent more than a comparable home.

Take strain off energy programs:  A recent op-ed in The State pointed out that the South Carolina Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal program that helps pay for home heating and cooling for its most vulnerable and low-income residents served over 72,000 S.C. households in 2012, up from 18,218 households in 2009. By ensuring homes are built in compliance with the current codes, those homeowners are less likely to need federal assistance in paying their utility bills and if they do, the amount will be less. 

Meet FHA requirements for purchasing new homes: For a homebuyer to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured mortgage to purchase a newly built house, the house must meet the standards of a modern energy code. FHA insured about 700,000 purchase mortgages in 2013, 10 percent being for new homes.

Given all of the major benefits and circumstances, and the knowledge and tools we have at our disposal, it’s time to make energy code compliance the norm, not the exception.

Meet the Author

Communications Manager

Want to get regular updates from IMT?