Local Implementation Action Kit

My state has adopted a new energy code. Now what?

A new or updated energy code can be a large undertaking, and preparations must be made in order to ensure that the code is properly implemented at the local jurisdiction level. This Local Implementation Action Kit will provide you with the guidance necessary to pass an energy code through the necessary governing body, update the building department with the necessary resources to enforce the code, and evaluate compliance.

Step 1: Energy Codes as Good Policy

Buildings impact our society in a big way: they account for 40-50% of energy use in the United States and cost consumers thousands of dollars every year. In fact, the average homeowner spends over $2,000 on utility bills annually. Energy codes, which set the standards for energy efficient construction , is one of the cheapest, cleanest, and easiest ways to push the market toward a sustainable future while consumers reap the enormous financial benefits.

Now that your state has adopted the energy code as mandatory policy, your municipality should begin to take the necessary measures to implement it at the local level. This will vary from state to state and may be through a legislative process, a regulatory process, or your jurisdiction may be expected to automatically begin enforcing the state law. For support and sample local ordinances, see our Policy Action Toolkit.

Step 2: Changes to the Current Energy Code

The changes from one energy code to another will vary from state to state. However, there are many general similarities that can be found across code updates. In order to understand which changes are applicable to construction in your municipality, you must first determine your climate zone. Depending on your climate zone, you can expect a number of building elements from the list below to be added or improved.

What is covered by the energy code? Here is a short list:

  • Standards for insulation in the walls, basement, attic, and floors
  • Energy efficient windows
  • Standards for ventilation and air tightness throughout a building
  • Requirements to seal and/or insulate ductwork
  • Requirement to install a programmable thermostat
  • Requirements for energy efficient lighting

Step 3: Preparing the Building Department Staff

To ensure that your building department properly enforces the updated energy code, plans examiners and site inspectors need to be kept up-to-date on all of the new requirements. A good way to begin is to conduct a training assessment, which enables an internal or external party to observe current practices and make recommendations for improving compliance through education.

Once the building department has a good sense of its training needs, it should make preparations to get its staff up to date on the new energy code requirements. If bringing in a trainer to the department is too expensive, there are other low- and no-cost options. One popular option is to send code officials to a training sponsored by a Regional ICC Chapter, which offer training to run parallel with recent code adoptions. Opportunities also exist to collaborate with other nearby building departments to leverage funding.

Additionally, it is imperative that the building department be on the same page with local-level leadership as to how to report compliance to the state. This is often covered to a minor extent as a part of energy code training, but a meeting may be necessary to cover all of the details and ensure that the state receives all of the necessary data.

Step 4: Compliance Evaluation

To make sure that all of the implementation efforts by your jurisdiction, and the state as a whole, are working, compliance evaluation becomes an imperative task. By collecting data on the success of energy code compliance, it gives governing bodies the ability to determine what is working, and which efforts can be improved. In addition, compliance evaluation becomes necessary as the state demonstrates compliance with the 2009 IECC as per Recovery Act requirements.

Although it is up to each state energy office to decide how to evaluate compliance at the state level, the U.S. Department of Energy Building Energy Codes Program (BECP) has published various guidelines and resources designed to assist states and jurisdictions with this process. In many cases, these resources can be used as a starting block, as opposed to starting from scratch, when determining how compliance shall be measured and reported. One useful tool is Score+Store, a completely electronic database where building departments can enter energy inspection data and store it into a state profile, which will determine a n overall compliance rate. The program is based off of standard energy inspection checklists, which reduces the amount of extra work and clutter that would otherwise come with reporting data.

In addition to reporting to the state and to DOE, the building department should also use this data internally to determine which areas of the energy code, if any, are trouble spots and increase education on those particular code elements. This cycle of evaluation and improvement is crucial to ensuring long-term compliance with the energy code.

View BECP’s archived compliance evaluation resources here.

Step 5: Building Community Outreach

The building community, which typically includes builders, subcontractors, architects, engineers, and developers, needs to be informed well in advance of an updated energy code. As the stakeholders who will be governed by these new codes, the building community should be given plenty of time to prepare itself, attend training, and collect compliance resources.

One of the best ways to reach out to these stakeholders is through local chapters of their professional groups, including the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and American Institute of Architects (AIA). These groups represent a large contingency of professional energy code stakeholders who have good reason to disseminate information on the changes that will affect how they do their jobs. It is also imperative that the local building department post the new code and a summary of changes to its own website prior to code enforcement. Some building departments hold a meeting open to the public to explain updates to the code and how they will enforce it, as well as answer questions.

While it is not technically the responsibility of the jurisdiction and its building department to prepare industry professionals for the new code, ensuring that they have the necessary information and updated support resources will help make the compliance process more efficient. Even building departments with limited resources can utilize low- and no-cost options and outreach strategies, and through consistent information-sharing efforts the building professionals can be well versed in the new code.

Step 6: Consumer Outreach

Consumers have an important stake in the affordability of their homes and businesses. However, few know anything about energy codes and assume that the buildings they live and work in already meet recognized standards. Enlightening consumers about the benefits of energy codes and how to determine if their home or office meets the code will ultimately improve compliance, as they will demand it from their builder or building owner.

One of the best ways to reach out to consumers is to distribute educational material through the building department and other various partners. BCAP has already created a number of checklists and guides suitable for educating consumers on energy code basics and why they are important, available in the Consumer Portal. If resources are available, you may also consider creating your own customized messages including the costs of noncompliance to consumers and how to check for compliance with a builder or the building department.

Getting the word out to consumers does not have to mean expensive advertising. As an alternative, your municipality can partner with electric and gas utility providers, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders to promote energy codes. Cross-linking to educational materials or an editorial on energy codes will also help spread the word to members of your community.