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The International Code Council (ICC) recently released Decarbonization of The Built Environment: Solutions from the International Code Council, a report calling for expanded activities that support a coordinated approach toward energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction in the building environment. The solutions are intended to help builders, manufacturers, and governments achieve their decarbonization efforts.

Recognizing the significant impact buildings have on the environment, the ICC is undertaking an internal road-mapping effort leveraging its Energy and Carbon Advisory Council, and soon-to-be-formed ad hoc committee on decarbonization, to make recommendations for the organization. This mapping is part of the process outlined by its energy-efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction framework, Leading the Way to Energy Efficiency: A Path Forward on Energy and Sustainability to Confront a Changing Climate.

“The Code Council is prepared to deliver the tools that communities need to realize their climate-related goals. Collaboration is essential to support consistency and limit confusion as the industry navigates new priorities. Our collaboration with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) on a standard to support evaluation of carbon across the life cycle of a building is just one example of the type of solutions needed,” says Dominic Sims, CBO, CEO of the ICC.

Vice president of innovation and executive director of Alliance for National and Community Resilience at the ICC, Ryan M. Colker, J.D., CAE, says that model codes help to provide requirement consistency so that home builders working across jurisdictions do not have very different requirements. When choosing products to reduce GHG, Colker says, “Environmental Product Declarations verified by the ICC Evaluation Service help assure that builders and code officials can rely on any claims made by manufacturers and that builders are using products that meet any targets set by the local jurisdiction.

“The new standard being developed with ASHRAE will help assure that as decarbonization initiatives expand, there will be a common basis for measurement and reporting of results.”

Through existing codes, solutions, and standards, the Code Council has already made contributions to reducing environmental impacts. Since 2006, the International Conservation Code (IECC) has improved energy savings by nearly 40% and has provided over 700 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon reduction since the 2009 edition. In the 2021 edition and the 2024 draft, zero-energy appendices appear, while future editions will deliver even more energy savings.

To continue that momentum, home builders should take stock of where current projects are in relation to energy efficiency. Colker says, “What code are you building to? Are you meeting requirements of an above code program? Once you understand your starting point, you may want to examine if any of these programs make sense. Even if your jurisdiction is not on the latest code edition, building to the latest code (e.g., the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code or International Residential Code) could be a great option.

“Other options include looking at opportunities to leverage an above code program like ICC 700: The National Green Building Standard, EPA's Energy Star, or LEED. Of course, there may be opportunities to market to potential customers the programs projects are built to.”

For house plans that are already in place, Colker recommends increasing the efficiency of existing systems, including appliances, HVAC, and water heating. He shares that assuring all lighting is LED is important, and proper sealing of the house and ducts can contribute to efficiency. “A blower door test and duct testing should be used to verify efficiency,” he mentions. If a HERS rater is involved, they may also provide additional recommendations without reworking plans.

Keeping a close eye on new solutions and standards, builders can take advantage of the Code Council’s wide variety of resources, including tracking the latest initiatives at “The latest editions of the International Residential Code and International Energy Conservation Code provide prescriptive and performance pathways to higher levels of achievement than what is in place in most jurisdictions today, including a zero-energy appendix,” Colker says.

The Sustainable Energy Action Committee and the Department of Energy's Building America Solutions Center are also great resources for home builders who want collaborate on decarbonization efforts, he adds.