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Home Building Articles

What You Need to Know About the New Statewide Energy Code

October 11, 2016

Source: Houston Builders

All your code questions, answered!

Beginning with all new homes permitted September 1, the statewide move to the 2015 energy code ushers in some significant changes for single-family and low-rise (three stories and lower) multifamily construction.

The catalyst for these changes is HB 1736, a Texas Association of Builders (TAB) priority bill, passed by the legislature last session. The bill made Texas one of the first states to adopt the energy chapter (Chapter 11) of the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC), though many jurisdictions across the nation had the much maligned 2012 energy code in effect while Texas remained on the 2009 version.

Fortunately, HB 1736 includes some key changes that provide the industry and municipalities flexibility in implementation and allow for more cost effective implementation of the code.

TAB, in partnership with local home builders associations, has held extensive training around the state since the bill was passed. The training focused on implementation of the bill itself as well as key changes in the 2015 code. This article will address some of the common questions that arose.

Why was a bill necessary for the 2015 energy code when the state energy conservation office (SECO) was able to adopt the 2009 energy code statewide by rule?

Chapter 388 of the Texas Health and Safety Code authorizes SECO to conduct a rulemaking process to adopt future versions of the energy code. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly referred to as "the stimulus bill," made Texas eligible for nearly $219 million if the 2009 energy code was adopted and 90 percent compliance was demonstrated by 2017. As such, there was significant incentive for the state to update the code at that time. However, SECO can only specify the version of the code to be adopted; it cannot amend the code itself.

The introduction of the 2012 energy code, and later the 2015 code, saw increasing pressure on SECO to adopt these more stringent codes, making it a matter of when, not if, another upgrade would occur. Also, the 2015 energy code introduced a new compliance path called the Energy Rating Index (ERI). For all intents and purposes, the ERI allows builders to comply with the energy code by hitting a specific Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index while maintaining certain envelope requirements. The ERI/HERS rating gives builders' broad flexibility to get to a certain performance figure (think of requiring cars to get 30 miles per gallon as opposed to requiring all of them to be hybrids).

Unfortunately, the ERI/HERS compliance path in the un-amended code require builders to achieve and ERI/HERS number in the low 50s. Fewer than 10 percent of Texas homes achieve such a low number, meaning that the vast majority of builders would need to look for other ways to comply.

HB 1736, however, moves the ERI/HERS target from the low 50s to a 65 in Climate Zones 2 and 3 and 69 in Climate Zone 4 (Panhandle Region). The number ratchets down two points in 2019 and four more points in 2022 as part of a compromise reached with stakeholders.

The bill leaves SECO with discretion to adopt future codes in the rulemaking process, but changes their review from a three-to a six-year adoption cycle. Also, future versions of the code do not need to be more stringent than the one that came before in order to be adopted. This is important because the rapid increase in code stringency as brought about the need to find more flexible approaches to reach the desired energy efficiency outcome.

I live in a non-attainment area or affected county, can my local jurisdiction amend the code?

Yes, but the amendments may not result in less stringent requirements than the un-amended code. Non-attainment areas and affected counties are defined in Chapter 386.001 of the Texas Health and Safety Code and are determined to have inadequate or deteriorating air quality under either the Federal Clean Air Act or as determined by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

I do not live in a non-attainment area or in an affected county. Can my jurisdiction continue with the 2009 code that it has previously enforced?

Yes, but the jurisdiction should take some kind of formal action to amend the 2015 energy code in order to continue with the code that was in place prior to September 1, 2016. The statute makes it clear that the energy efficiency chapter of the IRC is adopted statewide on September 1. However, local amendments in these areas can be less stringent than the un-amended 2015 code. As such a jurisdiction can take action to amend the 2015 energy code, as prescribed by state law, back to the framework that was in place prior to September 1.

What if my jurisdiction does nothing?

All homes permitted on or after September 1 fall under the energy efficiency chapter of the 2015 IRC or the ERI as modified by the legislature. Again, HB 1736 ushers in statewide change and it is incumbent upon the builder to meet state regulations in the absence of local amendments or revisions.

I am an ENERGY STAR builder/Green Built Gulf Coast (GBGC) builder. Can I use the program as a method of compliance?

Yes, the statute clearly states that, like the ERI path, the ENERGY STAR program shall be considered in compliance with the energy code. Regardless of the jurisdiction's amendments, they must accept ENERGY STAR as an energy code compliance path provided that the builder meets the guidelines of the program with the help of a RESNET certified home energy rater.

Some builders may find this to be an attractive compliance path at least until the program undergoes its own updates in the coming months. Additionally, the Green Built Gulf Coast program follows the National Green Building Standard as it is more stringent than the energy code. If you participate in the Green Built Gulf Coast program, this is also an acceptable path of compliance.

Members with questions or concerns about these changes are urged to contact TAB or the GHBA for more information. Our state is fortunate to have a vast array of technical experts who can work with jurisdictions and residential building professionals to ensure these changes are implemented in a manner that achieves the desired energy efficiency gains without compromising housing affordability.