In this week’s blog, Phius Policy Specialist Isaac Elnecave provides a brief summary of policy activity related to energy codes over the last several weeks. Read part one of our policy update series to learn about incentives and QAPs.
There has recently been a noticeable rise in Phius-related policy activity in terms of incentives, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Qualified Allocation Plans) and energy codes. Part I of this policy update series covered incentives and QAPs, so this edition will focus on energy codes.
- Incentives – Colorado (See previous blog post)
- Quality Allocation Plans (QAPs) – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Texas (See previous blog post).
- Energy Codes – Illinois, Chicago, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts
Energy codes set the required legal minimum level of efficiency for homes and multifamily/commercial buildings in a given jurisdiction. They are an extremely important tool in reducing both energy use and carbon emissions. Our aim is for energy codes to be set at the most efficient level possible. For more information, check out this blog post on the Department of Energy website with more information on energy codes.
The Capital Development Board (CDB) – the agency in charge of establishing energy codes in the state – will shortly start work on developing a stretch energy code. The CDB will soon complete work on the base energy code, which is a weakened version of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which has to be adopted every three years. Stretch code development will mirror the base code development, but will produce an energy code that is substantially more energy efficient. The stretch code is intended to give municipalities a ready-made option if they wish to adopt an energy code that is more energy efficient than the base code.
Importantly, the legislation that directed the CDB to develop a stretch code – the Clean and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) – also requires the stretch code to include an alternate compliance path for homes meeting the Phius standard. A similar measure was incorporated into the base code by the CDB. This means that regardless which code a municipality chooses to enforce – either the base or stretch energy code – Phius projects will provide a streamlined path to permitting and receiving a Certificate of Occupancy (while also relieving code officials of at least a little of their enforcement burden).
Concurrently with the energy code development being made by the state agency, an ordinance has been introduced (O2022-2008) that will make the 2021 IECC the enforceable code in the city of Chicago. Much like the state code, this ordinance will include an alternate compliance path for Phius. Currently, the ordinance is scheduled to be heard in September as city officials review the changes between the proposed code and the existing code to interested parties.
On July 5, the Michigan Department of Licencing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) held a hearing on the adoption of the Michigan Energy Code. LARA is proposing to adopt the 2021 IECC (virtually unamended), which would represent a significant improvement in the energy efficiency of the state energy code. Several groups spoke at the hearing including: Phius, the American Institute of Architects, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council and the Michigan Environmental Council (all in support).
The Michigan Home Builders Association spoke in opposition. Phius, while praising the significant improvement in the efficiency of the code, asked that LARA include an alternative compliance path for Phius. LARA will shortly release the final draft of the energy code. The energy code will then be considered by the Legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which is the final step before adoption.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is in the process of developing the 2023 edition of the New York Stretch Code (NYStretch 2023). NYSERDA is aiming to make this a net zero energy code. One of the code’s main features is the inclusion of an additional points section. For a project to comply with NYStretch 2023, projects must receive a certain number of additional points beyond the mandatory requirements of the energy code. These points are achieved through improved energy efficiency measures such as insulation levels significantly more stringent than the 2021 IECC (more efficient heating and cooling equipment is another means of achieving the necessary points).
The Phius standard is included in this section in an innovative way. The code merely states that projects achieving Phius final certification are deemed to meet the necessary points for compliance, which makes sense since the efficiency features of a Phius project will typically exceed the features included in the additional points section.
This approach may resolve one of the thorniest problems in the previous stretch code. Although NYStretch 2020 included Phius as an alternative compliance path (as in Massachusetts, Washington and Illinois), some cities did not include the Phius path when they adopted NYStretch 2020 – including the relatively obscure hamlet of New York City. This was because of a technical requirement related to the use of the Phius software program WUFI Passive (the same problem is faced by the Passive House Institute). The intent of the new approach related to Phius approach is to address this requirement (the explanation of how is not included in this blog post as it would require doubling its length). Currently, this Phius language is included in the residential portion of the energy code. Phius has asked for its inclusion in the commercial section of the energy code.
Description of the work being done by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources will be kept brief as a more detailed description will come in my next policy blog. The important thing to note is that the DOER proposes that in any municipality that affirmatively adopts the new Net Zero Stretch Code, passive house (either Phius or PHI) will be the code requirement for multifamily buildings of at least six units. This is a major development and will be explored in more depth in an upcoming blog post.