ICC Board Issues Split Decision on NAHB Building Codes Appeals

Filed in Codes and Standards by on October 12, 2020 18 Comments

house and gavelThe International Code Council Board of Directors on October 8 issued a final decision on the last two NAHB appeals to the 2021 building code development process.

The Board sided with NAHB on the scope and intent of two changes to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) but rejected another appeal on 20 twice-defeated proposals that were disapproved at two different hearings before being approved in the online vote.

In the successful appeal, NAHB argued that two proposed changes to the IECC – requiring 40A, 220V receptacles to be installed in all new homes for electric vehicle charging stations (CE217 Parts I and II) and for gas appliances for future electric retrofit (RE147) – went beyond the scope and intent of the IECC. The Board agreed with this position and removed the two changes from the 2021 IECC, similar to another successful NAHB appeal decision issued last month.

NAHB also appealed the approval of 20 changes to the IECC that were defeated in two separate steps of the code development process only to be brought back to life during the final online consensus vote as a result of new governmental voters suddenly being approved.

There was a concerted effort on the part of efficiency and environmental groups to engage like-minded governmental members who work in environmental, sustainability and resilience departments. These new voters appear to have worked off the same voting guide and simply voted their party line.

NAHB argued that the ICC voter eligibility and validation process and procedures were violated and that the proposals should not be included in the 2021 code. The ICC Board rejected that argument last week.

But the Board did note that it referred a number of issues raised by NAHB to the Board Committee on the Long-Term Code Development Process for further review, including the definitions of governmental members and voting representatives, the procedures for the in-person and online votes, and the issue of cost impact.

“We are obviously very pleased that the ICC Board recognized that the CE217 and RE147 proposals were outside of the scope of the IECC,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke. “While we disagree with the decision to keep the other changes to the 2021 IECC, we are encouraged that the ICC is taking our concerns seriously and we look forward to resolving the process issues identified in our appeal and continuing our constructive relationship with the Council.”

It is estimated that the two successful appeals resulted in a cost savings of $2,500-$3,500 for a new home with gas appliances, minimum efficiency tank water heater and parking. NAHB will continue to fight for residential building codes that produce safe, energy efficient and affordable homes.

For more information on the codes development process or the specific appeals in the 2021 codes cycle, contact Craig Drumheller.

Comments (18)

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  1. Matt Hoots says:

    This is extremely short sighted for the NAHB. Natural Gas will not be around or cheap for much longer so having a structure that can withstand a greater electrical load is needed now. It is much cheaper to have the increase capacity for more electrical now versus paying to retrofit it later.

    I remember when NG was $3/ therm and everyone was concerting to all electric. This will happen again and sooner than everyone thinks and the consumer will have to pay more at that point. Another way they can reduce the load on the house would be to add solar with a battery but that is much more expensive than the inflated “average cost savings” quoted in this post.

    It is tough to support the NAHB as a green builder because it seems like everything green builders would like to see in construction of homes for our clients the NAHB opposes in the name of “affordability”. There may be upfront savings, however the long term costs will be greater by NOT implementing these upgrades now.

    Fossil fuels are a limited resource and having structures in places that are solar ready and EV ready are needed now.

    • Phil Crone says:

      Matt, there is still plenty of room in the market for green builders like you, but putting a Tesla in every garage is not the answer.

      What’s needed now is greater access to new homes and the great communities they are built in. If a home doesn’t appraise or the mortgage applicant can’t qualify, they won’t enjoy any of the long term benefits these features could offer. Some of the items in the 2021 IECC won’t see a paypack for decades.

      We keep trying to squeeze water out of a rock by trying to push expensive incremental changes to new construction instead of looking at much more cost effective upgrades to existing homes. Most of those upgrades involve good air sealing and not the more “sexy” things that activists and the large companies who fund them would like too mandated because they can’t otherwise compete in the market.

      Those companies have undue influence within the ICC and that is a serious issue that the housing industry, through NAHB, will have to grapple with in the years ahead. Solar with battery backup and electric vehicles are luxuries. Building attainable housing and overcoming the inequities associated with unjustifiable product mandates is a necessity.

      • Matt Hoots says:

        I completely agree that we should be considering “efficiency first” and I am the last person to jump on a “tech first” bandwagon. We also need to admit that homes need to be able to evolve unless we are still of the mindset that they are only built to last 30 years. Solar panels on an inefficient home is ridiculous and I would never promote that.

        My issue is that it does not cost thousands to have a slightly larger service and space in the panel if the consumer wants to upgrade to all electric in the future. The breakers and the wires don’t have to be installed now, their just needs to be capacity in the panel IF the consumer wants to add this later. That would have been a great compromise that was completely ignored.

        By limiting the choices for consumers, they are not able to make sustainably choices for alternative technologies in the future.

        There are activist and interests all on sides of this argument. We could also argue that the fossil fuel industry is influencing these policies as well. I do believe that the marketplace will prevail and do believe in capitalism. I just know that right now many of my clients that are considering renovations are forced to either upgrade their electrical service on their house or just stay with the same energy sources. This also affects the types of insulation and air barriers that I can suggest for retrofits due to combustion safety.

        With regards to “Solar with battery backup and electric vehicles are luxuries”, I completely agree and they would not have to be if there was a sufficient service to the house already.

        We will have to pay more for Natural Gas sooner than later and need to be ready for all electric.

        https://www.rateitgreen.com/green-building-articles/reducing-the-natural-gas-bridge-for-human-and-environmental-health/152

    • Bill Gschwind says:

      I don’t see anything in the ICC decision that prohibits a contractor from offering the electric receptacles, either in new construction or as a retrofit. Nor do I expect that a future home buyer will be prohibited from buying a home that doesn’t have them.

      Let’s stop using the code to promote environmental positions or new products and return to a minimum safe and sound code that promotes the construction of affordable homes.

      • Matt Hoots says:

        Bill- I am on your side. I want to promote “safe…” codes.

        Natural Gas in many homes is not safe due to poor ventilation strategies which cause back drafting. Gas leaks on the way to the house from eroding infrastructure is also an issue and dangerous.

        Most builders are NOT aware of how to properly pressure balance a house so we need to require codes that account for the “less than aware” builder that does not understand building science.

        I am pretty sure most of the commenters in this discussion are good builders and get this. The issue is that we have to regulate for those that are not good builders unfortunately instead of counting the integrity of the builder and their trades to do things correctly.

        I did not even mention the “environment” in my comment. My arguments are strictly based on the life-cycle costs of the structure.

        • Bill Gschwind says:

          You touch on a whole different issue, peripherally related, but different. In the early 80’s we started tightening up houses without a sufficient understanding of building science. It was a logical reaction to the “leaky house” syndrome. When fireplaces backdrafted and gas stoves wouldn’t light, we added passive make-up air devices. As our knowledge grew, we kept tightening houses which necessitated more sophisticated mechanical ventilation systems. And buyers bypassed or defeated the mechanical systems. Eventually, the industry was forced to acknowledge that many buyers, especially at the entry level, don’t want to or are not capable of maintaining a mechanical system. Homes failed due to operator failure. Again, the response was to develop even more sophisticated mechanical ventilation systems that operated themselves; dummy-proof systems.

          What isn’t allowed, it seems, is to question whether the base safe/sound building code should dictate such a tight home. Maybe the solution should be to allow enough passive ventilation to eliminate the need for the mechanical system, and develop a certification process for a “Green Home” that tightens, requires mechanical ventilation, and may prohibit combustion appliances, including cooking equipment, that is not ventilated to the outside. Contractors building homes for customers with “sick house” or environmental allergies do this now. But the average buyer isn’t going to or able to pay the significant additional cost for that construction process and equipment.

          The point is that the continuing sophistication of the building systems, while exciting and certainly beneficial, is pricing low income entry level buyers out of the market. It’s also about choice. Matt, if you want to buy or build a very “Green” home, you should be able to do so and be able to rely on the home’s performance if it is represented as being environmentally-advanced, whether the home is new or pre-owned. The industry, though, needs to take a seat at the code development table and include market forces into the discussion such that the best and the newest don’t have to be dictated through a code that needs to change every year. My 1987 home is perfectly sound and safe, as is the majority of the older housing stock in the US. If those homes were good then, why shouldn’t builder be allowed to offer similar homes today while also offering upgrades using a certification program that provides buyers choices of energy efficiency, child safety, age in place, etc.

          • Matt Hoots says:

            Houses with less leaks and air exchanges are already part of the energy code and so is ventilation.

            You are making my point for ALL electric. Electric appliance are much easier to understand versus combustion appliances and are safer for consumers.

            I don’t think this should be mandated, however the option to go electric should not be designed out of the house.

            With regards to affordability, many of the things I am promoting have a fast ROI based on the saved operating costs.

            I’ve tested many old houses with a blower door and duct blaster and they are not perfectly “safe and sound.” They less control you have over air flow through the house and through the building envelope, the more indoor air quality issues you will have.

  2. Bill Watt says:

    The second to last paragraph refers to “parking.” Please clarify. Are there parking requirements for water heaters, or does the building code now address car parking req’ts?

    • NAHB Now says:

      Bill,

      One of the changes would have required receptacles appropriate to operate an electric vehicle charging station to be installed on each new home built with parking (garage or driveway). I hope that clarifies it.

      Thank you.

  3. Ron Jones says:

    Your comments are spot on, Matt. Thanks for speaking up!

  4. Miguel Quinones says:

    The NAHB focuses on keeping power as efficiency and environmental groups to engage like-minded governmental members who work in environmental, sustainability and resilience departments push for a better future. They want to prevent them from participating in future voting. They are focused on the profitability of their large builder/developer supporters instead of the home owners.

    The cost saving figures are significant but retrofitting homes afterward would be much more expensive. The intent of the code is to look after the well being of the home owners for the full life of the building. NAHB’s resistance to incorporate renewable energy, transportation electrification, and resiliency is clear proof that their alleged efforts on ICC-700 are just greenwashing and don’t take into consideration the lifecycle costs of homes.

    In a few years from now, when coastal towns are erased as the South and West have been this year, NAHB will look back and lament their current posture. Professionals taking the current situation seriously are working overtime trying to build net positive buildings that can build communities for the future.

    Finally, I’m disappointed at ICC for giving into the pressure of oil and gas lobbyists and NAHB.

    • Ron Jones says:

      Well said, Miguel. You have nicely articulated the reality of the situation. Per your final comment, it bears mentioning that both NAHB and AGA enjoy special status with the ICC as they are founding sponsors of the organization, something that is not lost on the ICC Board when they render their final decisions on issues such as these from behind closed doors.

  5. Troy Freed says:

    Matt as a builder I don’t need a code to be able to add such upgrades to an individual home owner. But also remember I can still offer a affordable quality home that is well insulated and very energy efficient. Compared to new home owners that are forced to buy a older home because they have been pushed out of the new home market because of upgrades not needed to a minimum code. So let’s work together to keep common sense into all codes and not vendors product push.
    Thank you Troy

    • Matt Hoots says:

      I completely agree Troy with “let’s work together to keep common sense into all codes and not vendors product push.”

      That is why I was arguing for a design that allowed for upgrades to both NG and Electricity as the market changes.

      I don’t think that every home should have solar or a charging station for cars, however if a client is considering it, the house needs to be able to adapt without a complete gut and redo of the current systems. Leaving a couple spaces in the panel and a slighting larger service into the house does not cost that much and would have been a good compromise.

      I honestly think that consumer demand will exceed the code so while this discussion has been fun, the marketplace will end up demanding these sooner than later. Consumers will be looking for both solid surface countertops AND a place to park their EV.

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