Southeast looks to Congress for strong building efficiency codes

Guest Blog | June 21, 2009 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

As the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) makes it way through Congress, SACE has expressed some important concerns, notably the weak energy resource standards and allowance give-aways. But there is still a lot to like in the proposed legislation. One of those things is the development of national energy efficiency building codes.

While SACE has not been closely involved in this aspect of the proposed legislation, Lane Burt, Energy Policy Analyst at NRDC, and other nationally-recognized building codes experts agree that the proposed national building energy code is a step in the right direction towards a clean energy future for this nation.

In his latest blog, Lane gives 7 good reasons to support this initiative:

  • Because more efficient buildings save consumers money;
  • Because new buildings matter;
  • Because “just leave us alone” means “just let us keep taking you money;”
  • Because when the power company needs a new power plants to run all the inefficient homes, you will have to pay for it;
  • Because someone who answers to the people should decide how to build our homes and offices;
  • Because states have done a (mostly) bad job;
  • Because the consequences of wasting energy do not follow state lines.

For the Southeast, this legislation is particularly important. As SACE pointed out in our report on Southeast energy efficiency impacts, the Southeast lags behind the rest of the nation on building codes policy. Fortunately, we are seeing some good progress in this area, but a national energy code would further advance energy efficiency in the Southeast, make the transition easier for the construction industries, and provide minimum standards to ensure we are all reaping the benefits of more efficient buildings.

In the Southeast, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina all made significant improvements this past year to their residential building code regulations and enforcement. Florida is a national leader on building efficiency policies (SACE colleague Tom Larson is a recently-appointed member to the work group directing updating of these codes), and the Florida Solar Energy Center has a nationally recognized research program in this area.

However other southeastern states, such as Mississippi and Alabama, maintain severely outdated or voluntary residential codes and efficiency codes for commercial buildings are weak or non-existent throughout much of the Southeast.  For those states with adequate efficiency codes on the books, enforcement often remains a key issue.



The proposed national building energy code can address these shortcomings by mandating updated residential and commercial efficiency codes on those jurisdictions that do not currently have them and by developing enforcement capacity in those areas that are unable to show adequate enforcement. Also, the national building energy code will set efficiency targets into the future so that we continue to take advantage of developing technologies and improved construction practices.   These provisions will ensure that southeastern residents are not put at an economic and environmental disadvantage due to a lack of adequate building efficiency codes.

Building codes are important.

The proposed national building energy code will save over nine billion dollars in residential and commercial energy costs by 2020.  This is money that can then go back into the local economy, stimulating growth and creating jobs.  In addition, energy efficiency can avoid the need to build new power plants, keeping our rates low, avoiding increased air pollution and global warming emissions, and maintaining the reliability of our electricity grid.

Updated and enforced building efficiency codes are the initial first step to this nation’s clean-energy future. Energy Efficiency is the cheapest, quickest, and easiest resource that we have for meeting our future energy demand, yet energy efficiency remains a low priority during the construction of most buildings.  This is because builders are typically not the ones who will have to pay the electric bills and going beyond what is minimally required is seen as too expensive or too difficult to be worth the effort.

Building codes protect the consumer from this “split incentive,” where the party with the ability to control energy costs is not the same party with the responsibility of paying for energy costs.  This split incentive denies building owners and occupiers the benefits of energy efficiency, benefits that range for money saved, to more reliable energy, to a cleaner environment.  Given the Southeast’s relatively poor performance in enacting up-to-date building efficiency codes and enforcing them, it is apparent that federal action is appropriate to bring these benefits to the citizens.

Strong, adequately enforced buildings codes will allow the Southeast to do more with less, saving consumers money, creating new jobs and reducing global warming pollution.  SACE will continue to advocate for strong building efficiency codes on the local, state and federal level to help bring about the clean-energy future that we need.

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