Residential building energy code adoption and implementation have expanded steadily in the U.S. in recent years, with roughly 40 percent of states having a residential energy efficiency code that is equivalent to or higher than the 2015 IECC. With all the progress that’s occurred in recent years, is the building industry reaching peak efficiency? If not, what more can be done to spur states to adopt and enforce building energy efficiency codes, and how does the industry support home builders still struggling to understand new codes? Insulation Institute spoke with Matthew Cooper, Senior Vice President of PEG LLC, about the current state of code adoption, implementation, and enforcement and what measures could improve energy-efficient construction in the U.S. today and in the future.
Current Status of Energy-Efficient Home Construction
Cooper says that no more than one-third to one-half of all new construction homes being currently built in the U.S. meet the 2015 or newer version of the IECC. While there’s been substantial progress among states in code adoption in recent years, enforcement remains a challenge.
“Unfortunately, with energy codes taking a back seat in order of priority among many code officials, it is really up to the building and energy efficiency community to bring the message to them,” Cooper said. “So much opportunity is present within the current energy codes that could help alleviate many of the existing pressures on the residential, new construction industry, yet the effective utilization of these opportunities comes with a direct need to educate and familiarize code officials with the non-prescriptive compliance paths.”
While the prescriptive path may be deemed the simplest approach to energy code compliance by many code officials, the performance approach offers options that provide clear benefits to builders. However, this is a moot point if code officials are only aware of prescriptive options.
“I think that it is very ironic that many of the industry constituents that argue against new code adoption are the very same parties that could benefit from these varied approaches,” Cooper added. “Part of their hesitation is often poor guidance from the energy efficiency community. In order for us to get builders on board, we must first get them the best direction and advice possible.”
Changing the Scenario Through Education
According to Cooper, the primary factor driving resistance among builders to change within the building industry is the lack of clear and concise knowledge.
“Where a builder or a market has a clear path to understanding, there is much greater adoption of new technology. Where markets are at the mercy of companies that manufacture and sell the installation of these technologies, the building community is reticent to make a decision and select technology.”
Helping home builders understand the “why” and “how” of energy-efficient home construction is in PEG’s wheelhouse. The company has worked to educate hundreds of home builders about the value proposition of advanced home performance, which Cooper says all comes down to effective and consistent use of modeling software, the subsequent understanding by the trades doing the construction, and the methodology by which the result is validated.
Education and training are critical to the long-term goal of increasing the performance and energy efficiency of new construction homes. So, while we may be approaching peak performance, we’re not there just yet.
Improving Performance Today
As the U.S. homebuilding industry works toward constructing more comfortable, durable, and valuable homes, Cooper says that builders should take the maximum benefits of methods and materials that are readily available to them.
“This can only take place when the end-to-end process is routinely and consistently applied,” he said. “The design, construction, and independent verification processes ensure that this happens. The relationship between various aspects of construction must be looked at as a whole. It does no good to a builder if they select the best materials if they are poorly and inconsistently installed, or if the benefits of selecting those materials are not taken advantage of in relation to other aspects of construction.”
Cooper cited, for example, a builder selecting thermal envelope components that don’t get installed properly or their performance attributes aren’t taken into consideration when the HVAC sizing and selection is made. “The value of those components is then negated or even worse, they perhaps lead to an unintended consequence that compromises the built environment.”
Looking to the Future
In the quest to make the U.S. building stock increasingly energy efficient, there was substantial growth in Net Zero buildings between 2015 and 2018. While Cooper agrees that Net Zero could be considered the “gold standard” in high-performance building, he argues that the priority now should be getting more states to adopt and enforce at minimum, the 2015 residential IECC or higher.
“Simply getting a much higher percentage of homes built to current energy codes would accomplish far more to reduce energy use in this country while also making the residential new construction process more efficient and homes more comfortable, durable, and valuable.”