Obscure Body Blocks Energy Efficiency Progress

Large building under construction

How many of you have heard of the nonprofit International Code Council? If I ever had, I’d forgotten it. Yet this private consortium, which has a huge impact on energy efficiency for buildings, wields undue influence over our lives.

The ICC oversees building codes for the United States and several other countries. Many state and local governments apply ICC codes for building construction within their jurisdictions. Buildings currently account for over 40% of total primary energy consumption in the United States, energy used for heating, cooling, and cooking.

Obviously, improving the energy efficiency of buildings can significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. A number of states, and cities such as Austin (with its climate protection program), are moving toward all-electric buildings, homes pre-wired for electric vehicle charging, and increased renewables in their energy generation portfolio – when they aren’t being thwarted by the fossil fuel industry. These changes would reduce our contributions to climate change.

The energy codes that govern energy systems and insulation were previously subject to a vote by the city and state governments that implement them. But just recently, the ICC stripped local governments of their right to vote on future energy efficiency codes. 

How did this happen?

The ins and outs of how this state of affairs developed are complicated; but as in many such situations, if you follow the money you find the explanation. In 2019, cities around the nation enlisted officials from their energy and sustainability departments to join the ICC. They realized that improving building energy efficiency would be an excellent way to reduce climate change emissions. Membership in the ICC would allow them to influence the codes that determine building energy standards.

In a vote taken in December 2019, a strong majority of members opted to require increases of up to 14% in building efficiency. But the ICC is heavily influenced by the construction and gas industries. The National Association of Home Builders, which had previously supported more participation in ICC by local governments, now called the record turnout “voter manipulation.”

At this point, local governments have lost their right to vote on the codes entirely. Instead, the building codes will fall under a separate “standards” process that will give industry more control over the outcome. It should come as no surprise that the gas industry is uninterested in energy efficiency measures that will significantly cut gas consumption and its profits

Locking in High Carbon Footprints for Decades to Come

This is a terrible development for all of us. What a surprise to learn that these people can have such a negative influence over how our buildings perform and affect our shared environment. Not only are the ICC members not our elected representatives, but they have now shut out of the decision-making process the people who are closest to us citizens. 

It is tragic news because most buildings, once constructed, will stand for at least 40 years, with very real effects on our local air quality as well as global climate change. Each year about 1.5 million new houses are built in the United States. The ICC’s irresponsible decision means that the vast majority of those homes will be constructed with larger-than-necessary carbon footprints that are enshrined for decades into the future.

Reason for Hope

The good news for you is that Nature Towns will be constructing all homes to the highest energy efficiency standards feasible. One of our many goals is to enable you, as a resident, to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible. With energy efficient buildings, shops and services located within walking distance, nature close by, and an organic regenerative farm sequestering carbon on your behalf, you will be making great environmental strides without even trying.

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