Stronger Building and Energy Codes Are a Long-Term Win for North Carolina
Authored by NCBPA Vice Chair Pam Fasse, President of Fasse bldgs.
What is required for strong building and energy codes?
More than ever before, residential and commercial builders in today’s market require a deep understanding of economics, science, physics, technology and regulatory codes to ensure the health, safety and satisfaction of increasingly educated consumers. Ideally, buildings must meet strict codes for energy consumption, structural integrity, and other performance standards while still maintaining affordability and pleasing aesthetics.
According to the International Energy Code Council, “the right building codes can require new construction to perform at more energy efficient and environmentally sensitive levels, ranging from construction design and elements to how buildings are used and occupied.” It’s no wonder the term “high performance” has become the buzzword among industry professionals, representing a necessary level of commitment and quality to meet the expectations of regulators and clients at an affordable cost.
Why we need more efficient standards in our building code:
The U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR program notes that, on average, 30 cents of every dollar that organizations spend on energy use in commercial buildings is wasted through inefficiencies. Research also shows that more efficient buildings have higher occupancy rates and increased asset value compared to typical buildings. “Tenants want real estate with lower utility bills, and more and more organizations are implementing leasing policies mandating environmentally friendly space,” according to the U.S. EPA. Code requirements that address the design of energy-efficient building envelopes and installation of energy-efficient mechanical, lighting and power systems emphasize these performance criteria. Too, model code regulations make possible the use of new materials and new energy-efficient designs. For all of these reasons, robust energy efficient and high performance construction standards are critical.
Comparison of NC building and energy code to others:
Most countries recognize the need to mandate high performance standards through well designed code requirements. Yet, even as the International Code Council expands its focus on energy use as it impacts homes and buildings, in the United States individual state commitments to energy performance are not guaranteed. In North Carolina, our commitment to high performance construction does not include energy or conservation.
Why is this important? Commercial and residential buildings are the largest users of energy in the United States, accounting for roughly 40 percent of total energy consumption and costing Americans over $400 billion a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Adoption of energy codes could represent a significant savings, estimated at $1.98 billion per year at current rates. With utility rate proposals set to increase 5 to 10 percent in North Carolina over the next few years, not adopting up-to-date codes would cause significant unrealized energy and financial savings for consumers.
Is there a solution?
So, what should we do to be sure that construction in North Carolina is optimized? We must be sure that the North Carolina Building Code Council, which determines code requirements and whose members are appointed by the Governor, includes an experienced energy professional. The currently seated council has limited knowledge of building energy performance, does not prioritize energy performance in code revision strategies, and has a very limited consumer driven voice.
And we are running out of time. The code development cycle in North Carolina recently changed to every six years from every three years, meaning the next revision won’t take effect until 2024. For this reason, targeting a code council seat is a necessary step now. The critics are shouting that we can’t afford to enforce stronger codes, but the truth is we can’t afford not to.