The Energy Code Compliance Conundrum
Unlike most other building codes, the energy code has multiple compliance paths. When combined with the fact that the energy code is a relative newcomer to the code scene and often treated as less important than traditional life safety codes; it’s easy to see why there is confusion among builders and code officials. Prior to the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the energy code had three compliance paths: Prescriptive, Total UA (U-value x area) and Performance. For those working in states or jurisdictions where the 2015 IECC is in effect, there is yet another compliance path to choose from, the Energy Rating Index (ERI).
The prescriptive compliance path has been the most common for a couple reasons: (1) it’s easy to follow, and (2) from the 2009 IECC and later, the performance path removed any potential flexibility for high efficient heating, cooling and water heating equipment. By removing any potential benefit to builders for using high efficient mechanical equipment it made the performance path nearly equivalent to using the prescriptive path. With the ERI compliance alternative in the 2015 and 2018 versions of the IECC, builders once again can do a true energy modeling analysis of their homes and get credit for installing high efficient mechanical equipment.
Here is a brief comparison of each residential compliance path in the IECC against some key characteristics:
IECC Compliance Path
Must Meet Mandatory Requirements?
Flexibility in Design and Construction?
Very little. Builders must meet specific requirements for their climate zone.
Moderate. Builders can trade-off among building envelope components (insulation, windows)
Moderate.Builders can trade-off among building envelope components, duct and envelope air leakage rates that are better than prescriptive requirements
Significant. Builders can trade-off among building envelope components, duct and envelope air leakage rates, heating, cooling and water heating equipment, appliances and lighting. Building envelope components can’t be worse than the 2009 IECC.
Software to Demonstrate Compliance?
Yes. U.S. DOE’s REScheck program is the most common. (note: REScheck is NOT an energy modeling software)
Yes.Energy modeling software meeting the minimum capabilities defined in the IECC.
Yes.Energy modeling software meeting the minimum capabilities defined in the IECC and approved by local code official. (note: 2018 IECC requires software in compliance with ANSI/RESNET/ICC Standard 301.)
IECC Requires Third Party Verification?
Impact on Code Official?
Code official is responsible for plan review and inspection of mandatory and prescriptive requirements in the IECC.
Code official is responsible for plan review and inspection of mandatory requirements and components as approved in the REScheck report.
Code official is responsible for plan review and inspection of mandatory requirements and components as identified on the energy modeling software report.
Code official is responsible for setting the qualifications of a third-party verifier and ensuring the verifier submits appropriate compliance documentation. The ERI path requires verification by a third party which lessens the burden on code officials.
Additional quality assurance?
Yes.When a builder uses the most common ERI option—the HERS Index to demonstrate compliance, all homes receiving a Confirmed or Sampled Rating are subject to RESNET’s strict quality assurance standards.
The various options available for demonstrating energy code compliance can be daunting for builders and code officials alike. Builders need to determine what makes the most sense for their clients and business model while code officials need to have an understanding of their role in verifying compliance with each option. To help builders and code officials get a better understanding of how to demonstrate compliance with the ERI compliance path, RESNET will be hosting a free webinar on December 15, 2017 from 1-2 PM EST. Register here.
Ryan Meres is RESNET Program Director. Ryan has 10 years of experience in energy efficiency, energy policy and building energy codes and has published more than two dozen case studies, reports and resources on those topics. He spent nearly six years at the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) where he led energy code development, adoption and compliance efforts at the city, state and national levels. Prior to joining IMT, Mr. Meres was an ICC Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy, Building Energy Codes Program. He also worked at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) as a Building Codes Consultant where he led the adoption and implementation of statewide energy and green building codes.
Ryan successfully completed a HERS class in 2007 and served as an EarthCraft House Technical Advisor at the Southface Energy Institute, conducting insulation and air sealing inspections, and building envelope and duct leakage testing for builders. He is a LEED Accredited Professional, an ICC Certified Residential Energy Inspector/Plans Examiner and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the Savannah College of Art and Design.www