Editor’s Note – December 8 Update:
At the end of November, the Building Code Board voted to reject the proposed deletion of the Idaho Energy Efficiency Codes. As a result, these important energy efficiency standards will remain on the books in Idaho. While this is great news, it’s possible these Building Codes could be reconsidered by the Building Code Board or the Idaho Legislature in 2023 – so be ready to speak up for them again.
For years, some in the Idaho Legislature have sought to dismantle Idaho’s building codes. Now Governor Little appears to be playing along.
In September, the Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses (DOPL) proposed eliminating the majority of the state’s energy efficiency building codes for the sake of special interests, political expediency, and a misguided response to an order to trim regulations.
The reality is that the energy codes are proven, cost-effective regulations that protect homeowners and renters, and conserve energy. The mistaken belief that useful regulations are unnecessary is not enough to justify eliminating smart policies that benefit Idahoans. What’s more, the legislature already approved the 2018 energy efficiency building codes for energy efficiency, going so far as to put them into statute during the 2022 Legislative Session.
Good codes make good buildings
Homes and commercial buildings are often unthought-of contributors to climate change. Between electricity use and gas heating, residential buildings account for about 20% of national greenhouse gas emissions. Updating building heating and cooling with efficient appliances is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy use. No matter how effective new technologies are, the bedrock of an efficient building is a well sealed, well insulated building.
Many states’ building efficiency codes, including Idaho’s, meet standards set by the International Energy Efficacy Code (ICEE). The ICEE is a well-studied, cost effective set of codes updated to meet current technologies and increase energy savings. Each section of the code builds on others to ensure all parts of a building work together to maximize energy savings. One missing part, like leaky windows, thin insulation, or untested air tightness, can significantly reduce a building’s ability to trap heat on cold days or keep cool on hot days. Effective energy codes are endorsed by building and architectural organizations as key ways to keep new housing stock up-to-date and cost effective. Idaho’s current energy efficiency codes are based on the 2018 ICEE standard.
Building efficiency is not just about energy use. The codes are a cost effective and proven money-saving tool. An average home constructed to Idaho’s current standards pays off the added cost of construction in just four years, a far better return than most investments and one that lasts the lifetime of a building. In this moment of rising energy prices, an efficient home can reduce monthly heating and energy bills. Efficiency also helps stabilize the power grid, softening the impact during periods of high demand like the summer of 2022 when the Treasure Valley saw 27 days of 100 degree heat. That’s one of the reasons why Idaho Power and other utilities have weighed in, in support of these efficiency measures.
Why eliminate a working regulation, and what are the implications?
The move to eliminate these building codes is motivated by Governor Brad Little’s Red Tape Reduction Executive Order to reduce “costly, ineffective, or outdated regulations.” The order is being used to justify DOPL’s current push to cut energy codes. While many agencies have trimmed outdated, repetitive, and unnecessary rules, the building codes are current, cost-effective, and protect the welfare and safety of Idahoans. That’s why a broad-based coalition of Idaho cities, building officials, energy experts, energy conservation advocates, and others oppose cutting back the efficiency codes.
Concerns have also been raised that DOPL staff engaged in advocacy during the rulemaking process, and mistakenly limited the building codes to provisions that protect life and safety. Agency staff are supposed to be non-biased referees during the rulemaking process, however, in this case, they have led the charge to eliminate these building codes. The cuts are being justified by a strained reading that limits DOPL’s authority to maintain energy codes. However, the applicable state law requires that these codes should promote “minimum standards and requirements in terms of performance, energy efficiency, effect upon construction costs, and consistency with nationally accepted standards…[and] modern technical methods.”
The move to eliminate building codes is an even bigger problem because of a 2018 change to Idaho law that prevents cities and local governments from passing codes with higher standards than statewide code. Without a state code, there is nothing to prevent Idaho’s rapidly growing new housing stock from missing out on important energy-saving features that will save Idahoans money for decades to come. If DOPL and the Building Code Board follow through on slashing the majority of the energy efficiency code, Idahoans will lose access to millions of dollars in federal funding for energy efficiency. The recent Inflation Reduction Act includes $330 million in grants to states and local governments to adopt and implement new energy codes. Only states and cities with building codes that adopt updated codes will benefit, meaning that Idaho will lose out on this important funding.
Finally, without modern building codes, prospective homebuyers in Idaho will lose out on subsidized loans from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration. Those Fair Housing and VA loans require states to meet efficiency standards. Eliminating the efficiency codes is not only a step backward; it prevents everyone in the state from moving forward.
The Idaho Building Code Board is scheduled to make a final decision on the energy efficiency codes at a public hearing on November 15, and they need to hear from you! The Governor’s Red Tape Reduction order has helped to reduce some repetitive and unnecessary regulatory language, but should not be the basis for throwing out important building codes that benefit homeowners and renters while saving energy. Gutting the energy efficiency codes only sets Idaho back, and will cost far more than maintaining the codes as is.
Photo credit: Building code by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free