Spokane Journal of Business

State, city to upgrade energy codes this year

Washington Legislature eyeing further changes

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Builders can expect a new slew of energy-efficiency codes to kick in later this year. 

As they wait, the next slate of changes is already in the works. 

Washington state currently uses the Washington State Energy Code, which is modeled after the 2015 edition of the International Energy Conservation Code, with a few amendments, that was implemented in July. The state is set to adopt the amended 2018 IECC this July. And already, IECC 2021 rules are being finetuned.

The IECC sets energy-efficiency performance standards for various facets of a building, including the building envelope, air conditioning, mechanical and lighting systems, and water service systems for new residential and commercial buildings. State and municipal governments in the U.S. and abroad use it as a model for setting minimum design and construction requirements for energy efficiency.

Changes between the 2015 IECC and 2018 involve modest increases in efficiency standards, but the most notable changes between the two for commercial buildings are the additions to the lighting controls requirements, water flow rates in showers, and updates to building envelope requirements.

Richard Brown, managing director of the Washington State Building Code Council, says, “What we’re giving is the highlights, and the danger with highlights is, what is minor to me could be of key importance to someone else.”

Also included in the changes were expanded occupant sensor requirements to include open office spaces and a clarification of on-site and purchased renewable energy, which limits the reduction in energy cost from on-site renewable energy to 5% of the total energy cost and requires documentation of any reduction in energy use from on-site renewable energy.

Krista Braaksma, codes specialist with the state Building Code Council, says one of the biggest changes was new codes on mechanical systems.

“There is a base case mechanical system … you’ll need to show that your mechanical system is at least as efficient as the base case mechanical system,” she says. “So, you can’t just go buy the cheapest equipment.”

On the residential side, changes were added to increase window efficiency requirements, reduce requirements for the energy rating index maximum scores, and clarify on-site renewable energy guidelines.

Braaksma says the changes also include new efficiency standards for gas fireplaces and increases in energy-efficiency tax credit options to help offset the costs of making a home more energy efficient. 

Marlene Feist, spokeswoman for the city of Spokane, says via email that the city follows the state energy code adoption schedule, with the IECC 2018 updates expected to be adopted by both in July this year.

The 2018 code changes with amendments currently are being reviewed by the Legislature.

The city of Spokane Valley and Spokane County both also are scheduled to adopt the 2018 codes officially on July 1 this year, though the 2018 IECC updated codes currently are listed on their respective websites as the codes to use.

Spokane-area contractors are still reviewing how the upcoming changes will impact them. 

Brown says that the state-passed legislation in 2009 set a goal of seeing a 70% reduction in 2006-level building energy consumption in new buildings by 2030. That would mean that by 2030, newly built buildings would use about 30% of the total energy consumed by buildings in 2006. 

Each code change acts as a building block upon the existing energy consumption improvements and is measured incrementally to track the progress as compared with standard buildings in 2006, he says.

Data provided by the state code council shows average energy use in residential buildings in 2009 was at 83% of the total energy used by buildings constructed to code in 2006; 74% in 2012; 68% in 2015; and is estimated to be at 55% in 2018. 

Brown adds that exact data for 2018 will be available this March. 

Buildings account for roughly 40% of energy consumption and carbon emissions nationwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Code changes go through a rigorous process at the state level, Brown says. The new IECC edition goes through a review process by a 22-member technical advisory group before presenting the changes for public review, where for 60 days anyone can propose changes they would like to see in the code and the amendments, he says.

The proposals are then reviewed, and the group recommends whether to reject the proposals or approve them as is or with changes. The five-member building code council — which includes a representative from both political parties and a representative from the state Department of Labor and Industries — then considers each approval and recommendation before the council enters the changes into proposed rulemaking, which is then open to public comment.

The council then considers all testimony and will make changes if needed before moving it into formal rulemaking and sending it through a legislative session to be adopted formally.

Brown adds that those who submitted proposals can petition for reconsideration if their proposal is rejected.

“Nobody can say this is being done in the cloak of darkness,” he asserts.

Voting on changes to the national IECC 2021 closed in late December, with approved changes expected to add an additional 10% in efficiency improvements to both residential and commercial buildings, according to a press release. The 2021 IECC won’t take effect until it’s certified by the International Code Council’s board of directors later this year, after which time jurisdictions can begin adoption of the new standards.

Brown says the council likely will begin reviewing the new codes in October, and each code—commercial and residential—will take roughly a year each to review, then will be subject to public review and testimony before being finalized.

The currently proposed changes are in a challenge period in which any of the approved proposals can be subjected to further scrutiny. The code is reviewed every three years, with local governments and related agencies voting on which changes to enact.

The most notable changes coming includes two new appendices that provide guidance for states and cities that create their own codes to move toward zero energy performance requirements - meaning as much energy is produced on site as is required for a structure to function - as well as more flexibility in both the commercial and residential parts of the code depending on climate zones and building types or designs.

The IECC 2021 also includes new requirements for new buildings to ensure a certain percentage of parking stalls are electric vehicle friendly.

Other changes include new standards for residential water-heating equipment and measures to increase lighting efficiency, including adding lighting controls and installing multifamily exterior lighting. A proposal to include horticultural lighting was accepted as well. The IECC previously exempted lighting used for growing plants.

Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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