The International Code Council is proposing a drastic and controversial change that would streamline the development process for its model International Energy Conservation Code, basing it instead on the system used by the American National Standards Institute. Those favoring the status quo maintain that the existing ICC process, though complex and many-layered, has merit.

The proposed change to the energy code committee’s system will be on the agenda for the upcoming ICC board of directors meeting in early March. The specific date has not been set. The proposal may or may not be voted on at that meeting, according to Mike Pfeiffer, ICC’s senior vice president of technical services.

Advocates for change include the National Association of Home Builders, the American Gas Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association.

In the view of NAHB, because the energy code is growing more complex, the streamlined process allows for “more deliberative discussions and exchange of ideas, as well as opportunities to jointly analyze supporting data, ask questions and develop collaborative solutions, which results in a more balanced and cost-effective code.”

Thomas D. Culp, the principal at Birch Point Consulting LLC, feels that “the ANSI process allows more involvement by all stakeholders including governmental officials, in that the document and all proposed changes go out for public review, so anyone may comment and propose further changes without having to attend hearings.”

However, veteran code committee members value the current process. “You learn how the codes are made and you learn the reasons behind the code changes,” says Jon Siu, who recently retired after many years as Seattle’s chief code official. “It’s a very time intensive process [but] you learn why certain code changes do not get approved, which makes you a better code official.”

Impetus for Change

The impetus for change grew out of some dissatisfaction with the three-year update cycle, completed last month, for the 2021 model energy code. Thus far, the 2018 code has been adopted by 19 states.

Homebuilders, energy interests and manufacturers maintained that the energy efficiency measures in the update would raise house prices. Most building officials, architects and energy-efficiency advocates say those short-term costs pale compared to longer-range energy savings and environmental benefits.

The homebuilder-energy faction filed a series of six appeals following the energy committee’s final vote. Several of the appeals were successful, on the grounds that federal requirements preempt code provisions or on other concerns about the voting process. In addition, a voting guide issued by energy-efficiency proponents, while legitimate, may have influenced some officials' voting decisions and disrupted the opposition to the 2021 update, according to sources.

In response to the concerns, the ICC board appointed the long-term code development committee, which proposed the move to a standards process.

The streamlining proposal has drawn 207 written comments from government officials, industry representatives and trade and professional organizations. The majority of comments are against change. They include dozens of cities and states, the American Institute of Architects and many of its chapters, ASHRAE and DuPont Safety & Construction.

“One of the strengths of the ICC’s code development process is that it is largely democratic; anyone may propose changes to the code and all ICC governmental members and their voting representatives may vote on those changes,” comments Amy Boyce, associate director, codes and technical strategy at the Institute for Market Transformation. IMT is a nonprofit that works with owners and developers toward more energy-efficient buildings.

Bill Fay, head of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, which has been advocating for increasing efficiency measures for 12 years, says the proposed changes “will push governmental members out of the process.”

Linda Baskerville, energy plans examiner and inspector for Arlington County, Va., adds that “the current energy code adoption process takes time and develops in complexity over the years, as do all codes. That is precisely the reason the existing process should remain. Slowly evolving codes weed out the problematic, poorly worded or irrelevant sections over time.”

Three-Year Cycles

Under the existing system, the council develops codes over three-year cycles through committees with a wide range of members: federal, state and local government officials, building owners, architects, insurance representatives, contractors, manufacturers and building product distributors. Proposed changes can be submitted by anyone, through ICC’s cloud-based program.

At committee action hearings, which typically last 10 or 11 days, people testify within tight time limits, after which the committees approve, disapprove or approve with modifications each proposal.

Public comments about the proposed changes that survive the first round get submitted via the cloud. Some nine months later a second round of public comment hearings is held, which typically lasts seven or eight days, with further testimony.

Typically between 60 and 300 eligible voters—all government officials—participate in the second round hearing in person and discuss and vote on the proposed changes. Following the hearing, eligible voters who did not attend the hearing vote online and the final vote count combines the in-person and online votes.

On average, 800 voters cast ballots on energy code proposals. If anyone has a concern about the process, they can file an appeal, which is decided by ICC’s board of directors.

Code Development by Committee

The proposed process results in standards developed in accordance with the ANSI process, which does not include committee action or public hearings. Rather than open, in-person public hearings, code development work would be performed by a committee appointed by ICC’s board.

Code change proposers would testify virtually, with no time limits. There would be multiple committee and subcommittee meetings. The committee’s vote would be final.

While the homebuilder/energy faction has pushed for changing the energy code committee over to the standards process, a separate push for greater transparency has been intruding from another direction. The energy-efficiency faction, comprised of conservation advocates, architects and code officials, was dismayed to learn in 2019 about an agreement between ICC and NAHB granting NAHB four of the 11 seats on the energy conservation code committee.

This resulted in the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee sending a letter to ICC requesting more information about the agreement on Jan. 19. ICC responded on Feb. 2, including a copy of the agreement with NAHB.

"The code council has numerous partners in various sectors of the building safety industry and publicly discloses the membership of its code development committees," said ICC in the letter. "While home builders are among those partners, they do not have disproportionate control of the code council’s model code development process. On the contrary, volunteer government officials with experience and expertise exercise by far the most control in the process."