Thursday, October 17, 2013

NAHB: 2015 ICC Hearings: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Your Home Builders Association defeated 85 percent of the code changes it opposed, and passed 60 percent of the code changes it supported
The International Code Council, the private, nonprofit association of building code officials, cities, counties, and states, and interested businesses met last week in Atlantic City New Jersey for final action on more than 2,000 proposed changes to the International Codes series of building codes for the 2015 codes cycle.  NAHB scored some impressive wins but also suffered some unfortunate setbacks.

The Good

The NAHB Construction, Codes and Standards staff and builder volunteers provided excellent testimony at the hearings, and NAHB was successful on 85% of the hundreds of proposals that the association supported or opposed for the 2015 IRC.

Of particular importance to the home building community are five key proposals that NAHB fought against to keep building codes flexible, cost effective and product-neutral. NAHB’s success on these proposals represents total construction savings of up to $40,000 per house:

Additional Requirements for Exterior Foam Plastics. A proposal was disapproved that would have required all single-family homes or townhouses with foam plastics in the wall or roof system within 10 feet of the property line to be protected on both the interior and the exterior by a thermal barrier. It also prohibited the use of any siding that includes foam insulation as a backer product.

Had this proposal been approved, it would have required builders to sheath the entire exterior of their homes in a layer of drywall or wood sheathing, or maintain a distance of 10 feet from all property lines. In some cases, this could have resulted in an additional cost of up to $20,000 per home.

Additional Stairs and Ramps. A proposal that would have required all single-family homes and townhouses with multiple levels to have a stair or ramp within 50 feet of any habitable portion of the home was disapproved. The 2012 IRC requires a single stairway or ramp to connect all habitable levels. If approved, the proposal could have cost builders anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 per home.

Residential Accessibility. A proposal was disapproved that would have required all one- and two-family homes to be designed so people with disabilities could enter unassisted, have a zero-clearance entrance, an elevator or lift, an accessible bathroom, bedroom and (if on the accessible level) a kitchen with 40 inches of clear floor space at all counters. If approved, the cost of compliance would have been $2,000 to $3,000 per house.

Wood Deck General Provisions. Expanded provisions for constructing wood decks were approved in Atlantic City. Among provisions that were considered but were ultimately disapproved were guard post, stair stringer and lateral connection requirements that would have added at least $300 in additional hardware costs. Also, provisions that could have led to engineering being required for decks were limited in scope or defeated, saving approximately $1,000 in engineering design costs per home.

Foundation Walls in Flood Zones. A proposal that would have required reinforced short stem walls in riverine flood zones (FEMA Zone A) was disapproved. Cost savings are in the range of $300 to $1,000 per house, depending on height and total length of walls.

"The staff members from the NAHB Construction, Codes and Standards Department fought day in and day out on behalf of everyone in the residential construction industry," said Lee Schwartz, vice president of government affairs for the HBA of Michigan. "It’s not just the ICC hearings where these unsung warriors do battle; it’s at the NFPA, ASHRAE, ASTM, NFRC, ANSI and IAPMO committee meetings and hearings as well. Without their hard work and support, Michigan would not have won the code victories that we achieved in our state."

The Bad
While NAHB posted resounding victories for the 2015 edition of the IRC, only about 60% of the changes proposed in favor of cost-effective, energy-efficient new homes were approved for the 2015 IECC.

Key proposals to restore mechanical equipment trade-offs, and to provide trade-offs for building tightness and window area, were soundly defeated despite testimony from dozens of builders, NAHB staff and building officials.

"To date, six states have adopted the 2012 IECC and only one state has adopted it without reduced stringency," said Pennsylvania home builder Frank Thompson. “Clearly there is a disconnect between the model codes and what jurisdictions are willing to adopt."

"We need to be able to determine what is the best alternative for our customers," added Michigan home builder Don Pratt, who also serves as chairman of the NAHB Construction, Codes and Standards Committee.

The Ugly
Trade-offs are energy-neutral by definition and allow builders and their customers to make choices based on affordability, marketability, or just plain personal preference. Unfortunately, there was concerted effort by opponents of home builders to maintain the reduced flexibility of the 2012 IECC and mandate that builders meet the stringent requirement of the energy code without exception.

For instance, another energy-neutral proposal to allow a builder to get credit in the performance path of the code when installing solar panels was disapproved, with opponents arguing that builders could possibly skimp on insulation to save money.

The idea that a builder or home owner would spend tens of thousands of dollars on photovoltaic panels to save money on electricity costs and not appropriately insulate is simply ludicrous.

Common-sense proposals to improve the flexibility, cost-effectiveness and product neutrality of the energy codes were too often thwarted by a coalition of energy-efficiency advocates funded by those businesses with the most to gain from more stringent codes.

Product manufacturers also sent representatives to the hearings as well, and some of them gleefully admitted that the results would enable them to sell more insulation, windows or other products. These advocates – many of whom have never even set foot on a job site or know anything about how a home is actually built – talked in the abstract and called these code proposals "rollbacks."

Despite the best efforts of NAHB staff, home builders from across the nation who volunteered their time, and building officials who attended the hearings, they were ultimately unable to compete with those who fought against cost-effective and sensible code proposals.

Too many building officials did not have the funds or time to come to Atlantic City on a weekend to vote in favor of energy code changes that were necessary, practical and cost-effective. Consequently, eligible voters not involved with code enforcement influenced many of the critical proposals that were meant to fix the broken 2012 IECC.

Despite these setbacks, NAHB was still able to hold its own as the 2015 residential energy requirements will not be more stringent than the 2012 and could actually turn out to be a bit less stringent.

Moreover, adoption of the 2012 IECC is facing unprecedented resistance at the local level. State and local jurisdictions adopt building codes, and performance matters. Building officials from across the nation are unlikely to implement the 2015 IECC without significant amendments because it is too difficult to put into practice and too expensive to use.

Note: South Carolina has adopted the 2009 IECC by statute.  It will take action by the General Assembly and approved by the Governor to adopt the 2012 or 2015 IECC.  Your Home Builders Association opposes adoption of the 2012 IECC.

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