Sustainability advocates are censuring the International Code Council after the ICCs board of directors removed mandatory provisions relating to building decarbonization readiness from its draft 2024 International Energy Conservation Code, and placed them in the optional appendix. The board action on March 18, motivated by appeals and taken against the recommendations of ICC’s own board of appeals and staff, finalized the new code—giving objectors no recourse.

Environmental and other groups charge that the board caved to special interests and, in doing so, compromised the council's reputation as a model code developer.

“The International Code Council bent over backward to accommodate a few powerful industries, calling into question the organization’s legitimacy,” said Michael Waite, director of codes and building standards for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in a statement after the council's decision.

The board based its determination on the scope and intent governing the 2024 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which prohibits "inclusion of measures that did not directly affect building energy conservation within the base" of the 2024 code. The counciI explained that “for jurisdictions seeking to incorporate additional greenhouse-gas-reduction measures, the code will contain new options for electric vehicle-charging infrastructure, energy storage systems, electric readiness and demand responsive controls.”

The decision of the 18-person board, comprised of building officials, also rattled at least two members of the energy conservation code's residential consensus committee. The committee has 48 members, 16 of whom are building officials. The critics maintain that by accepting the appeals challenging mandatory electric-ready provisions for single-family and up to three-story multifamily houses, based on the scope and intent of the model code, ICC also upended the first implementation of its own radically different—and itself controversial—energy code update process.

Under the new rules, government building officials no longer vote to either approve or reject the draft model code put forth by the committee. Instead, its members approve the update through a consensus process long used by standards-writing groups.

The board “pulled the rug out from under us, after voting members and interested parties spent thousands of hours over the last three years building consensus and developing a code following the new process,” says Gayathri Vijayakumar, a member of the residential consensus committee and principal mechanical engineer at Steven Winter Associates Inc.

Eroded Trust

Amy Boyce, also a committee member and a mechanical engineer and senior director of building and energy performance at the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), agrees. “It is very discouraging to partner in a process believing one set of rules applies and to find out at the end that that is not the case,” she says. “The board has definitely eroded the trust between themselves and the volunteers who developed the code,” adds Boyce. “It will take a lot to bring the trust back.”

Boyce and Vijayakumar are both upset that by moving the climate change readiness provisions to the appendix, the code council board destroyed the carefully crafted omnibus compromise agreement reached by the residential consensus committee members, some of whom traded reduced energy efficiency for inclusion of the electric-ready and electric vehicle charging-ready provisions as a way to break a stalemate between different interests during early stages of the code’s redevelopment.

The brouhaha started when the board announced its March 18 decision regarding nine appeals to the draft code filed by natural gas interests, the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute and the Building Owners and Managers International with the National Multifamily Housing Council.

Scope and Intent

The intent of both the commercial and residential provisions is limited to “providing minimum efficiency requirements for buildings that result in the maximum level of energy efficiency that is safe, technologically feasible, and life-cycle cost-effective considering economic feasibility, including potential costs and saving for consumers and building owners, and return on investment,” says ICC Pulse, a council newsletter.

Vijayakumar is frustrated that, after asking for guidance in 2022 regarding varying interpretations of the scope and intent document, council directors who wrote it failed to provide “crystal clear guidance.”

“We certainly recognize folks have put a lot of effort into developing the 2024 code and to have things change is disheartening," says Ryan M. Colker, council vice president of innovation, in response to the criticism. “We solicited feedback … to improve the [code development] process prior to the conclusion of the appeals but would welcome continued feedback moving forward.”

Inspired to Serve by ICC Mission

That doesn’t appease Vijayakumar. “Many of us applied to serve on the committee because we were inspired by the ICC’s stated mission in the ICC Energy Framework document ‘to help our communities increase energy efficiency and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet their policy goals,’” wrote Vijayakumar, in a March 25 letter to Dominic Sims, the council's CEO.

Vijayakumar asked for a public apology to the 2024 IECC committee and that the code council board takes accountability publicly for a “failure to provide clear direction” about scope and intent to the residential committee when asked in 2022.

Sims replied on April 1, thanking Vijayakumar and the other committee members for their work, but did not offer an apology.

“The board has directed staff to, in consultation with the board, clarify the 2027 IECC scope and intent, review and evaluate the appeals process, and suggest adjustments that render the process more efficient," he wrote. "We will release details about the 2027 development process when available.”

Colker attributes the confusion to “different interpretations of the scope and intent between the board of directors and the staff, and therefore the committee.”

Code Increases Energy Efficiency

There is no dispute that the code would increase energy efficiency over the 2021 code. The 2024 update “is anticipated to improve energy efficiency by roughly 6.5% for residential buildings and by 10% for commercial buildings,” the council states. The savings are based on an evaluation by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Lab, says Colker.

Trouble began brewing two years ago, when the residential committee faced a stalemate. According to Boyce, many proposals that had the required 50% approval at the subcommittee level could not achieve the two-thirds threshold required from the full committee. “Rather than accept the stalemate and put out a draft with only minor updates, committee members worked together to form an omnibus compromise proposal that would be voted on as a package, with gains and concessions on each side," she explains. “Pro-decarbonization members decided to forego some stronger efficiency elements” to include electrification measures, Boyce writes in her IMT blog.

The residential omnibus draft passed with more than 90% approval from the full committee. During negotiations, the committee was under the impression that all proposals it received, screened by the code council, were within the scope and intent of the IECC, based on a council staff memo dated Feb. 15, 2022, from Mike Pfeiffer, then council senior vice president of technical services and now retired, in response to a committee request for clarification sent to the ICC board of directors.

The memo stated: “The board has not previously provided updates or clarification to the scope or intent of codes or standards during an active development process, allowing the development process to proceed to resolution. If a topic is contained in the scope or intent statement, it may be included either in the base of the code or as an appendix, as determined by the consensus body.

"Any content within the scope and intent of the code may be included either in the body of the code as minimum requirements or as an adoptable appendix based on the determination of the responsible consensus committee," the memo continued.

Other environmental groups also are discouraged. “The rollback is very disappointing,” says Jonny Kocher, RMI’s building electrification expert. The 2024 IECC “no longer has cities, states and the federal government on the path toward reaching their stated climate goals.”

He adds that the up-front cost to install electric-ready power is $500 to $1,000 per house, according to the California Energy Commission, the New Buildings Institute and consultant Group 14 Engineering. “It would cost multiple times that to retrofit a house for electric power,” says Kocher. It is three times more cost effective to include electric-vehicle charging readiness in new construction compared to a retrofit, he adds.

"Perhaps most disappointing is the ICC board’s disregard for the high retrofit costs they have decided to stick homeowners and businesses with in the future,” Waite wrote in his ACEEE statement.

Deeply Concerned

RMI organized the gathering of statements in reaction to the ICC board's action. “New Buildings Institute is deeply concerned by the ICC board’s decision to uphold components of the appeals made to the draft 2024 IECC to remove key building decarbonization measures from the model code," Ben Rabe, project manager for the New Buildings Institute stated in the release. "These proven measures are needed to provide jurisdictions with the tools they need to meet their climate goals in the built environment and create climate resilient communities."

The jurisdictions that have adopted the 2021 IECC contain a total population of 119 million people as captured by the Census Bureau, says ICC. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires use of the 2021 codes in any federally funded post-disaster recovery. And, according to ICC, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture are in the process of updating requirements for funded projects to meet the 2021 IECC. The U.S. General Services Administration also requires compliance with the 2021 energy code.

Despite the controversy, ICC is holding to the standards-based approach for the next IECC update. “We will be moving forward with the standards-based approach for IECC only,” says ICC’s Colker, not for any other ICC codes, among them the International Building Code.