On August 10, 2022, Utah’s Uniform Building Code Commission held a public hearing, in which more than 60 people gathered online and in person for, to go over the proposed amendments and updates to 2021 building codes. The amendments and updates were made in response to the more than 50 amendments that were recommended by the Utah Homebuilders Association. While many of the amendments proposed by the Association were approved and implemented into the Commission’s recommendation, others were not due to the positive cost-effectiveness and energy savings potential of the energy code updates.

Advocates spoke in favor of approving the complete 2021 IECC for homes and businesses and said the changes would improve air quality throughout the state, save money on utilities and pricey renovations and reduce burden on the state’s energy system. They did acknowledge that the Commission’s recommendation is a step in the right direction even if it includes numerous weakening amendments to the residential 2021 IECC. One supporter, Utah Clean Energy’s building efficiency and decarbonization director, Kevin Emerson, stated “Each new building constructed in Utah has the potential to last for 50 to 100 years. If new buildings today are built using old standards for energy conservation, Utah will see higher than necessary energy consumption and the resulting excessive demand on Utah’s utility infrastructure. This excessive demand for energy can increase utility rates for all ratepayers. Utah Clean Energy supports the Commission’s recommendation that Utah adopt the unamended 2021 IECC for commercial buildings and the version of the 2021 IECC for residential buildings being considered in the Title 15A draft.”

If accepted, Utah’s 2021 residential energy code would include new requirements, such as:

  • One of five additional energy efficiency packages be included in new homes
  • Updates to various prescriptive building envelope requirements
  • A blower door test, a visual inspection of the air barrier, air sealing, & insulation installation in a home
  • Improvement in whole home air tightness by 2025
  • More airtight air ducts
  • Increases high efficiency lighting requirement from 75% to 100%
  • Exterior lighting power for residential buildings like dorms, boarding houses, care facilities, etc
  • Modified Energy Rating Index (ERI) rating values based on the 2018 IECC
  • A voluntary zero energy appendix that provides the design and construction industry with a code-based method of designing and constructing zero energy buildings.

This would benefit Utah families and businesses tremendously as those who own new buildings built to the newest energy conservation standards would save $2.8 million each year in reduced utility bills, or $1.03 billion over thirty years. Utah would also lower greenhouse gas emissions by 26,000 tons each year, or 14.5 million tons over thirty years, and over 800 jobs would be created annually, and over 23,000 jobs created over 30 years.

Those who opposed the amendments were few in numbers, but Ross Ford with the Utah Home Builders Association disagreed the most to the proposed building codes. “Some codes provide minimal benefit but have high cost, while others provide significant benefit with minimal cost. We should work tirelessly to find an effective strategy to lower costs and help people find a path to purchase safe, sturdy, and efficient homes at a reasonable price,” Ford said. Ford was not alone in his concerns with the codes; Mitch Richardson, the founder of Building Science West, also expressed a lack of confidence in Utah’s code enforcement. He states that from his experience working in the construction industry, homeowners are the ones taking steps to retrofit their homes, while code enforcement has made it harder. He also mentions that there is nowhere in the proposed code where it refers to an increase in officials guaranteeing homes are meeting current or future standards. “The rebate programs are what’s been doing the heavy lifting over the last 20 years for getting improved homes built in Utah, not code enforcement. Code officials do not enforce the full energy code. Enforcement is outright spotty. Bottom line, if you update the code, you’re going to get worse homes, not better. You’ll get more pollution, not less. If we update now, it will be a victory on paper, but a real-world loss.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Commission recommended that Utah adopt the full 2021 IECC for commercial buildings, and an amended version of the 2021 IECC for homes. The Commission’s recommendation was submitted to the Utah Legislature’s Business and Labor Interim Committee and will be debated by the full Legislature during the 2023 Utah General Legislative Session.

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