Minnesota shouldn’t bypass regular residential energy code updates

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Ben Rabe is a Senior Policy Associate in Buildings and Energy Performance at Fresh Energy.

With its cold winters and hot summers, energy efficiency is particularly important for Minnesota homes. Efficient homes not only reduce energy use, they provide the quality housing stock that attracts people to live and work in our state. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry is recommending that our state bypass an update of the residential portion of the energy code, which would put Minnesota 12 years and four code cycles behind other states.

On May 25, 2018 Fresh Energy submitted comments on the Department of Labor and Industry’s 2018 International Model Codes Review report, summarizing research that makes a clear legal and public benefit case for the state to continue regular updates of the model building energy code.

  • Building code updates every six years are clearly required under current state law, Stat. § 326B.106 subd. 1(c).
  • Homeowners benefit from updating the residential energy code, with significant documentable annual and life cycle savings from utility costs.
  • Building trade groups and building officials support updating all codes, including the residential energy code.

In its report, the Department advises its Commissioner to update all ten of Minnesota’s building codes based on the 2018 model codes, except for the residential portion of the energy code. Model codes are updated at the national level every three years and then adopted by states. Minnesota adopts codes on a six-year cycle, so the state’s new building code will come into effect in 2020. Unfortunately, choosing not to update the residential energy code, as recommended by the Department, would put Minnesota 12 years and four code cycles behind other states.

The Department appointed stakeholders to Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) for each of the ten individual codes and Fresh Energy sat on the Energy Code TAG. While the Department’s report came out of this stakeholder process, it falls short in fully capturing the discussion and priorities of TAG members. The Department states a lack universal support among the TAG group as justification to forego a residential energy code update. However, Fresh Energy, with support from other TAG members and external organizations, points out that updating the energy portion of the residential code is clearly in the public interest and required by state law.

Minnesota law is clear with respect to the duties of the Commissioner of Labor and Industry to review and adopt building codes for use in Minnesota. Under Minn. Stat. § 326B.106 subd. 1(c), the Commissioner is directed to review the new model building codes and adopt those model building codes as amended for use in Minnesota, every six years beginning with the 2018 edition. Remaining with our current residential energy codes—that is based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code—would violate this statutory provision.

In addition to complying with statutory requirements, updating the residential energy code is in the best interest of Minnesotans. Fresh Energy worked with the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance to complete analysis demonstrating that updating the residential energy code would be cost effective for homeowners. Moreover, updating all codes provides compatibly between codes and with other states, as well as ensures the health, safety, and structural durability for Minnesotans in their homes.

This analysis found the average Minnesota homeowner could expect to use six percent less energy and reduce annual utility costs by around $128 and $140 in climate zones 6 and 7, respectively, above our current residential energy code. These energy and cost savings will continue for the life of a building, meaning 50 to 100 years of savings. Therefore, potential costs during initial construction should not be the only consideration when examining cost impacts. Using incremental construction costs from the current code to the full 2018 International Energy Conservation Code, a homeowner with a 30-year mortgage will realize a positive cash flow of four to five years, and a life-cycle cost savings of between $700 and $900, depending on the specific climate zone. Energy codes provide consumer protection by ensuring long-term financial savings that allow homeowners to have more disposable income.

Additionally, building trade groups and building officials support updating all codes, including residential energy. The energy efficiency sector currently supports nearly 50,000 jobs in Minnesota alone, making it the largest sector for energy employment in the state. Of these jobs, almost 60 percent are related to construction and 11 percent in building-related energy-efficient manufactured products. Adopting the most recent energy codes will continue to support these sectors and spur investment into the local energy economy.

On June 21, 2018 the Construction Code Advisory Council will convene to review the report and make their recommendations to the Commissioner. Fresh Energy believes that incorporating the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code residential provisions in the 2020 Minnesota Building Code is in the best interest of Minnesotans. We urge the Department of Labor and Industry to include the residential energy code in the ongoing update process.