Across Texas, codes are a‑changin’ for both residential and commercial construction. As of September 1, 2016, the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (“IECC 2015”) is in effect for home construction. Nov. 1, 2016 is the “go” date for applying IECC 2015 to new commercial buildings. Because building codes are enforced at the local level, and because larger metro areas also must meet federal air quality standards, there’s some uncertainty in the building industry.
So what does this mean for architects and contractors designing and building today? What if some jurisdictions are still operating under 2012 IECC or earlier versions?
First, know that many jurisdictions will not have formally adopted the code by these deadlines. It’s creating an ambiguous situation across the state of Texas because many municipalities have failed to approve an updated energy code by the deadline, or they may have adopted a new energy code but did not make them effective prior to the state’s deadline. While contractors may be able to permit and pass inspections in these local jurisdictions under the less stringent energy code than the state mandated 2015 IECC, industry experts agree that the contractor may be exposing their businesses to potential legal liability in the future. This is especially true for projects in Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) air quality non-attainment areas which include most major metropolitan areas in Texas.
Additionally, all state-funded buildings must conform, regardless of local jurisdiction.
The Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP) is the state’s comprehensive plan to meet federal air quality standards. As part of that plan, TCEQ has designated certain counties in the state that are either not meeting the air quality standards or are marginal and at risk. Local jurisdictions in these counties are required by law to adopt local energy code ordinates that are as stringent or more stringent than the code adopted by the state. Other counties in the state are still required to adopt the state mandated energy code but are allowed to make local amendments that make the energy code less stringent.
For contractors working in these non-attainment areas, the state law requires that buildings be constructed to the state energy code regardless of whether the local jurisdiction is enforcing it or not. While they may be able to pull a permit and have their projects pass inspection by local authorities, their projects are technically non-conforming legally. For this reason, many construction consultants and legal experts are recommending that architects and contractors specifically design and build their projects in conformance with the 2015 IECC across the state.
How does IECC 2015 change building in Dallas, for example? The amount of added insulation required for a commercial building in Dallas, Texas (IECC Zone 3, Prescriptive R‑value Method) constructed of light gauge framing is R‑13 in the wall cavities – plus an additional R‑7.5 continuous insulation on the outside of the wall. For the same building constructed of a mass wall system, the code only requires the addition of R‑7.6 of continuous insulation to achieve the same level of performance.
Get ahead of the confusion by designing and building to the new energy code now using a simpler solution such as insulated concrete block. It provides structure, building envelope, fire resistance, and increased energy efficiency that exceeds 2015 IECC energy code requirements and improves overall building performance.