Houston expected to approve new residential building code tomorrow

Mayor Anise Parker and the Houston City Council is expected to adopt a new residential energy code for single and two-family homes, as well as apartment buildings of one and two stories, which would be 15% more efficient than the state minimum standard, as set by the State Energy Conservation Office. Sierra Club has been calling on SECO to adopt a new minimum code similar to that being considered tomorrow by the Houston City Council. The proposal — Agenda Item No. 11 on January 8th — would meet an objective set by Mayor Parker and others to reach the 15% above code requirement by 2014. Previously, the City Council adopted a five percent and 10 percent above code requirement. Below is a letter sent by the Sierra Club to Mayor Parker endorsing the new Houston residential code.

To: Mayor Anise Parker and Houston City Council

From: Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club

Re: Agenda Item 11, January 8, 2014

Houston’s Energy Leadership: Efficient Homes

Tomorrow, on January 8th, Houston’s City Council will consider and should upgrade the city’s building codes for single and two-family homes and apartment buildings less than three stories. Houston should remain a leader in energy efficiency by adopting building codes that are 15% more energy efficient than the statewide mandatory minimum code set by the State Energy Conservation Office.

When the City of Houston updated its Residential Energy Conservation Code in 2012, it went beyond the minimum standards required by the state by adopting a code that was 5% stronger than the state minimum, which is based on the 2009 International Residential Code and 2009 International Energy and Conservation Code. With tighter efficiency standards for new buildings, Houston helped homeowners lower their electric bills, reduced the air pollution associated with electric generation, and helped position the city as a leader in green building and advanced building technology. Furthermore, in early 2013, Houston again updated its code to be 10% more efficient than the state minimum. Finally, tomorrow, City Council is scheduled to consider updating the code to 15% above the state minimum standard, which was adopted in 2012.  In order for Houston to remain a leader in energy efficiency, the Lone Star Chapter and local Houston group of the Sierra Club supports this latest proposal.

Making buildings more energy efficient through better building codes is one of the most cost effective means of reducing energy use, lowering energy bills and reducing demand for fossil fuels. Powering American buildings currently contributes to 40% of the nation’s energy use and 10% of the world’s energy use. Much of this energy is wasted through inefficiencies such as leaky enclosures and poor insulation and outdated or improperly installed equipment. These inefficiencies result in an unnecessarily high demand for energy and strain the economy by ramping up energy bills. In 2009, unexpectedly high utility bills were the second leading cause of foreclosures. Energy efficiency measures through improved building codes can contribute significantly to reducing energy bills.

SECO is currently considering adoption of the 2012 IRC and 2012 IECC, which is roughly 15% more efficient than the 2009 codes. While the Energy Systems Laboratory and multiple stakeholders have recommended that SECO adopt this new code, SECO would probably not implement this code until 2015. By adopting the 15% above 2009 code tomorrow, including a compliance path through the 2012 IRC and 2012 IECC, Houston will be staying ahead of the game and maintaining its leadership as a green city.

It is vital that Houston maintains its role as a leader in energy efficiency with energy code provisions that are 15% above the new minimum state codes. This is especially important as forecasts project approximately 540,000 new homes in the Greater Houston area in the next twenty years. Buildings that are built today last an average of 40 years and it is important to ensure that they are built to high standards that avoid as much waste as possible. Houston’s leadership will protect Texas residents and businesses from volatile electricity rates, reduce pollution that contribute to the state’s dangerous ozone and smog levels, and improve the reliability of the electric grid.

Houston should take the initiative to remain 15% above the 2009 IECC and IRC codes. Both the Responsible Energy Code Alliance and Texas A&M’s Energy System Laboratory have prepared recommendations on how local jurisdictions can achieve that goal and homebuilders have been able to meet the standard.

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