Historic gains for efficiency in existing buildings are one of many updates that have been approved for the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The IECC is reviewed and updated every three years and serves as the model energy code for states and local jurisdictions across the United States.

“The updates related to existing and historic buildings clarify and further extend the code’s impact on the current building stock and will mean large energy savings growing over time,” said Jim Edelson, New Buildings Institute (NBI) senior manager of Codes and Policy. NBI and its partners put forward some two dozen proposals.

Edelson summarized the top five outcomes from the hearings from his perspective.

Big Changes for Existing Building Codes

The IECC applies to both new buildings and work done on existing buildings.  While it’s pretty obvious how the provisions of the code applied to new buildings, how they were applied to existing buildings was confusing.  The provisions apply differently depending on whether the project was an addition, an alteration, or just a repair, and this created confusion for compliance and enforcement.

Code officials and local government representatives voting in Atlantic City approved a new chapter in the IECC that has dedicated sections for additions, alterations, and repairs based on work by an International Code Council (ICC) Code Action Committee and the Northwest Energy Codes Group. The sections of the new chapter clearly define the activity types and describe how the provisions of the code apply.  The Northwest proposal that was also approved adds further application guidance and enhanced requirements for many of the activities that are performed on existing buildings.

Historic Buildings Redefined

The IECC, International Existing Buildings Code (IEBC), and the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) all address historic buildings. The definition in the IECC was worded in a way that completely exempted historic buildings from every provision of the IECC.  The current ‘historic buildings’ definitions in these three codes differ markedly from each other, and from the International Building Code (IBC).  Although many jurisdictions still apply the IECC selectively to historic buildings, this confusing exemption to the code creates a huge missed opportunity for energy savings.

Working with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Preservation Green Lab (PGL), the Washington Association of Building Officials, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), NBI clarified the definition of “Historic Building” and reasonably limited the exemption in the IECC.  All five proposals were approved and will be in the 2015 I-Codes. In the case of both the commercial and residential IECCs, the new code language eliminates the blanket exemption and now requires the submission of a report detailing why any code provision would be detrimental to the historic character of the building.

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