How Local Government Can Shape Energy Codes

Today an increasing number of local governments are looking for ways to reduce energy use in buildings, in order to meet local emissions reduction goals. One tool is through building codes, which set the minimum efficiency for new construction.

Some leading communities are developing and adopting advanced codes; join our upcoming free webinar on March 11 to hear perspectives from staff in both the sustainability and code enforcement offices of Austin, TX and Baltimore, MD about the code systems they’ve built to match their respective city’s sustainability, community, and economic needs.

However, most communities use the model code called the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is developed by the International Codes Council (ICC). This national model code directly affects energy use in most local communities, and improvements to the code are voted on not by Congress, but by local government staff from across the country. This means that if you are a local government staff member, your vote can make a decisive difference in advancing energy efficiency in the next code.

To participate in the model code development process you need to do two things:

  1. Verify your local government is a member of the ICC and has paid dues by March 20.
  2. Ensure a current roster of voting representatives is submitted online by March 20 to participate in hearing votes, or by August 31st to participate in final action votes

Each local government gets four, eight or twelve votes on proposed code changes, depending on population, but many local governments (maybe including yours?) don’t take advantage of their allotted votes because they don’t submit a full roster of voting representatives. Talk to your local government’s primary representative (usually in the building department) and make sure a full roster is submitted–and sustainability office staff can be voting representatives too (must be an employee of the local government)! Once you’re on the list, you’ll just need to login online during the voting periods, and cast your vote.

Building codes are updated on a three year cycle. Voting in 2015 will focus on structural, safety and water issues, while 2016 will see voting on the next round of updates to the energy portion of the code.The 2009 and 2012 code update cycles each saw a 15% increase in efficiency, and in the 2015 cycle these gains were protected against significant roll-back attempts by elements of the building industry. These historic gains were made possible by increased participation of progressive local governments.

If you have questions about participating in the code development process, or about adopting advanced codes in your own community, contact Eli Yewdall at