The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) has been updated, and the changes are sure to affect the remodeling industry. To what degree it will affect you depends on how stringent your local inspectors tend to be or how ardent you and your clients are in achieving the goals of a 30% increase in energy savings. Then again, some rural areas that don’t even have building codes will undoubtedly continue “business as usual.”

While many of the code changes apply to new construction, the degree to which a remodeling project is affected will depend on how much of the structure is opened up, says Carl Seville, Georgia–based green consultant and Remodeling columnist. “Unfortunately, the way the new rules are written is profoundly vague regarding renovations,” he says. “In theory, you only have to meet the code in instances where you’re exposing at least 50% of the home’s envelope, such as cases when you open up a wall or a ceiling.”

New Way Forward

One hurdle for remodelers will be overcoming their “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mindset, says Mark Scott, president of Mark IV Builders, in Bethesda, Md. “Over the next two years, it’s going to be a disaster,” he says. “You’re dramatically changing the tolerances with which we build. It’s something that most builders and remodelers aren’t used to. They don’t understand the consequences of [the new codes]. They’re going to try to meld old techniques with new standards and it’s not going to do anything but cause problems.”

Scott further laments the dearth of progressive thinking among practitioners in the remodeling and construction industries. “We’re all too familiar with the bleeding edge as opposed to the leading edge in lots of things we do,” he says. “Mistakes are expensive and they take a while to reveal themselves. When we start reducing air changes in a house from some huge number down to three [within an hour] under optimum conditions, I think you’re going to end up with dead zones in a house with no air changes.”

Combine these new codes with a lack of education and homeowners buying cheap furniture and putting it in very tight houses, and Scott says the potential for incidents of sick-house syndrome will greatly increase. “The construction industry will get the blame for it being shoddy workmanship, but it’s really poor education,” he points out. “We just don’t know how many ways we can screw things up. But we’re going to find out.”

Seville anticipates that the new codes will likely only be enforced in areas where “the code is very clear. Otherwise, we won’t see a lot of enforcement.” He adds that if remodelers plan to comply, they should prepare themselves for doing “a lot of things they haven’t been doing before.”

Ten years in the future, these new energy codes will be a wonderful idea, according to Scott. “But getting there is going to be an issue,” he says, adding, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

IECC Updates for Remodels

These updates relate to residential remodeling projects where 50% of a home’s envelope is opened up:

  • A mandatory air infiltration test
  • A tighter duct leakage standard
  • An increase in stringency for insulation and glazing efficiency requirements
  • A set of options to solve the problem of “stranding” heated water: keeping pipes “short and skinny” or insulating them to avoid waste
  • The elimination of a former duplication of model energy codes between the IECC and the International Residential Code, streamlining the process into a singular, efficient path to residential compliance

—Mark A. Newman, senior editor, REMODELING.

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