The “Actions Cities Can Take to Support Energy Efficiency in Texas” are not limited to internal policies and practices. Adoption and enforcement of an up to date energy code is one of the most effective tools to help ensure efficiency across the community.
Well enforced, modern energy codes, help save homeowners and building owners energy and money, ensure more durable, resilient building stock, and reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions. The US EPA calculates that residential and commercial buildings are responsible for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US as well as air pollutants including mercury, sulfur dioxide (SO2,) nitrous oxides (N2O) and particulates.
The Energy Code in Texas
Energy codes are a referenced set of standards dictating energy performance criteria of buildings including envelope (insulation, roof, windows) and energy using systems (HVAC, water heating, electrical power systems and lighting). There are two primary model energy codes: ASHRAE Standard 90.1 Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
The two model energy codes are updated at regular intervals (roughly 3-year cycles) and are similar in requirements and performance criteria.
In Texas, the State Energy Conservation Office is responsible for establishing the minimum energy code. Currently adopted energy codes include:
- Residential (Single Family Residences and Duplexes) – 2015 International Residential Code, Chapter 11 Energy Efficiency (equivalent to residential portions of 2015 IECC)
- Commercial & Residential (Excluding Single-Family Residences) – 2015 IECC
- Residential Buildings (State Funded) – 2015 IECC
- Commercial Buildings (StateFunded) – ASHRAE Standard 90.1 – 2013
Texas is a “home rule” state meaning local jurisdictions hold some ability to pass laws and govern themselves. In terms of the energy code this means local jurisdictions have the responsibility “to establish procedures: (1) for the administration and enforcement of the codes; (2) to ensure that code-certified inspectors shall perform inspections and enforce the code in the inspectors’ jurisdictions; and (3) to track and report to the state energy conservation office on implementation of the codes.”[i] There are over 1,200 cities, towns, and villages in Texas that have the responsibility to implement and enforce energy codes under Chapter 388 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The energy code only results in more energy efficient performance of buildings if local jurisdictions take their code administration and enforcement responsibility seriously with well-supported, staffed, and trained building departments.
Benefits of New Energy Codes
Energy Efficiency and Cost Savings
The primary benefit of adopting and enforcing the energy code is energy efficiency! Improvements in efficiency standards in newer versions of model energy codes has reduced energy use of model buildings by 40% on average since 1975 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Energy use index for model energy code 1975-present
Supporting increased adoption and enforcement of energy codes will greatly increase efficiency in new buildings, lowering a homeowner’s energy costs significantly enough to create positive cash flow for homeowners from day one, and reap the benefits of the savings for the life of the building (Figure 2). Both residential and commercial buildings can significantly reduce the peak demand for power, which reduces energy costs to the entire state, and reduces the need to construct new power plants. Furthermore, electricity used during times of peak demand tends to be more carbon intensive and polluting as producers turn on older and less efficient coal and diesel generators to meet demand.
Figure 2: Life Cycle Cost Savings of 2015 IECC in Texas Climate Zones compared to 2009 IECC
Source: National Cost Effectiveness of the Residential Provisions of the 2015 IECC, June 2015, PNNL.
1. 30 year life cycle savings including costs for equipment replacement.
2. Annual energy savings minus increase in mortgage payments.
Improved Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®) Score
Supporting proper administration of building code departments, including having certified inspectors, regular training, and adequate staffing to handle their local building demand, and the adoption and enforcement of current building codes, including energy codes, has the added benefit of improving property insurance rates in your city. The Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS) assesses the building codes in effect in a particular community as well as how the community enforces its building codes. Insurance Services Office (ISO), the administrator of BCEGS, reviews city practices so that they can develop an insurance classification rating that reflects the safety and durability of the buildings in the event of flood or other natural disaster. If the building code adopted by a city is more than five years older than the latest edition published (2009 and earlier codes), the city will begin to lose points in their score, increasing as time goes on. Conversely, the adoption the latest code edition awards the maximum number of points in that category. Insurers consider a city’s BCEGS is setting rates for a region, with lower rates corresponding to lower (better) BCEGS scores.
ISO’s 2019 National Building Code Assessment Report provides valuable information about code adoption nationally and the impact of delayed code adoption and lax code enforcement on hazard insurance rates. It gives Texas an overall score of 6 (on a 1-10 scale with 1 as exemplary commitment to building code enforcement and higher scores indicating worse performance) (Figure 3).
Figure 3: ISO’s 2019 National Building Code Assessment Report Texas Profile
Best Practices to Ensure Effective Energy Code Enforcement in Your City
The good news is nearly 19 million Texans live in jurisdictions that have adopted at least the IECC 2012, which is close to equivalent in performance to the currently adopted 2015 IECC and the 2018 IECC. However, a third of Texans live in unincorporated portions of the State, where energy code enforcement is limited, or in jurisdictions under older or no energy code.
Unsure what code your City has adopted? Check out SPEER’s Adopted Code List for city-by-city code status information.
For jurisdictions that have adopted the energy code, your work is not done!
Local governments have the option to enhance the state energy code by adopting local amendments to the code. The amendments can strengthen certain performance criteria or provisions in the code. SPEER has developed a number of amendments to the 2015 IECC, for example: Required Certification for Air Leak Testing Contractors, and Documentation of Heating and Cooling System Design. See all local amendments on the SPEER website.
Local amendments generated in 41 “affected” counties in Texas must be reviewed by the Texas A&M Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL). Amendments that are less stringent than the published code are not allowed. TAMU ESL also reports on the impacts of statewide energy codes, and provides builder self-certification forms for homes built in unincorporated areas of Texas for builders and raters. Access these forms here.
The State Energy Conservation Office is due to review for consideration a new state energy code in 2021. Cities considering adopting local amendments should begin the development process for the next code as soon as possible.
Proper Certification and Training of Inspectors and Builders
As we discussed in Step 9: Optimize Building Operators to Optimize Building Operation, investing in training is key to meeting performance goals. This is true of your city’s building official, plan reviewers, inspectors as well as builders and contractors operating in your region. Trained inspectors are better equipped to anticipate and catch violations of the energy code or sub-par installation practices in the field.
The International Code Council, the entity that develops the IECC and other model building codes, also provides certification to building officials, plans examiners, and inspectors. Ensure your building department staff are ICC certified and have access to high quality continuing education to maintain their credentials. SPEER offers trainings, including regular free-of-charge webinars that provide ICC Continuing Education Units. Check out our event calendar for upcoming sessions. Past sessions are available on SPEER’s YouTube channel. If you would like to receive email notifications of upcoming training events subscribe to our newsletter.
Third Party Testing and Inspections
Leveraging third party resources can be a cost-effective and efficient option to increase capacity of the city’s building department staff. The 2015 IECC requires performance testing of homes including a blower door to evaluate envelope tightness and a duct blaster to evaluate duct leakage. Third party testers perform these tests and provide performance reports to the inspector or code official as required. If the home does not meet the required tightness, the certified person performing the test may be able to assist the builder in making the necessary improvement.
Texas also allows third-party or private sector enforcement of building codes. Cities may develop or approve a qualified pool of inspectors that the builder may choose from, or assign an inspector on a rotational basis. The city should monitor and verify inspector conformance by conducting random performance audits of inspectors to ensure consistent enforcement of code. Third-party inspectors who are engaged in the enforcement of energy codes are also required to have ICC Certification.
To learn more about third-party energy code inspection check out the City Efficiency Leadership Council case study: Third Party Energy Code Inspection.
Participate in Energy Code Development
Finally, a key action a city can take to encourage an energy efficient energy code is to participate in the development of the code itself. Model energy codes are updated every three years. The International Code Council administers development and adoption of code changes. Potential code changes and amendments can come from a number of sources but only Government Member Voting Representatives (GMVRs) have the authority to vote to formally adopt updates. GMVRs are representatives of cities, states, municipal utilities, and other local government entities that have been officially designated by their organization to participate in code development. The Energy-Efficient Codes Coalition estimates there are about 20,000 potential voting members nationally. Yet, only about 500 votes are typically cast on energy efficiency related code amendments. A major reason for this low participation rate is cities and other public entities not recruiting and utilizing their full voting potential. Cities with less than 50,000 people are eligible for 4 votes, populations of 50,000-150,000 receive 8 votes, and over 150,000 have 12 votes available. Yet many cities of all sizes will not use their full voting roster or not vote at all.
Preparation is key in leveraging your city’s full voting power. The 2024 IECC will be developed over the coming years, with code changes and updates emerging over 2021-2022. Code hearings are expected in early 2022 and voting will take place in the fall of 2022. The 2024 IECC is expected to be published in 2023.
Your city can prepare by making sure your city is a member of the International Codes Council, and has designated a point of contact to recruit and manage voting members. That point of contact can help recruit city staff, including staff of diverse departments like sustainability, planning, and economic development, to use available GMVRs in the next code development cycle. Your city should secure budget and identify representatives to attend ICC code hearings to ensure your community’s interests are represented in update development. (Figure 4)
Figure 4: Steps your city can take to prepare for the development of the 2024 energy code
Training and Resources
Training and education about energy codes for code officials, builders, contractors and designers will make the transition to the new code easier and less stressful for everyone. SPEER offers webinars, in-person trainings, videos and various other resources from groups like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America that will help all those involved in the industry better understand the code and how to comply with it. To learn more visit our training and resources.
[i] Texas Health and Safety Code Title 5 Section 388.003 (c) (https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/HS/htm/HS.388.htm#388.003)