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City looks to adopt 2018 environmental construction code

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Springfield may soon get with the times in terms of environmental construction codes – though “the times” are dated 2018.

Springfield City Council is scheduled to vote May 2 on whether to update the city’s land development code by adopting an amended version of the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code to replace the 2012 version.

The code sets forth rules for construction practices and materials related to energy use; these include such considerations as insulation thickness, ventilation and lighting requirements.

There are several modifications to the code in the version before the city. Examples include the removal, for now, of provisions related to residential construction and a decision to make exterior lighting and power controls nonmandatory.

The IECC is crafted by the Energy-Efficient Codes Coalition, which is attempting to achieve net-zero energy construction in the United States, according to its website. Targets for carbon neutrality vary from one municipality to the next, the website states, but The Paris Agreement on climate change has set a worldwide target of 2050 for net zero emissions. The coalition notes that buildings consume some 40% of the energy used nationwide.

The city adopted the 2012 version of the IECC not in 2012, but in 2019. A 2021 version exists but is not on the table for council consideration.

In an interview with Springfield Business Journal Dori Grinder, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield, said a newer year on the code book does not necessarily equate to a better set of standards.

“It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily behind if you’re on the 2012 or 2018 version,” she said. “It’s what makes the most sense for the community.”

Grinder’s organization deals with residential construction, and for now, the city is considering the 2018 IECC code without the 59 pages devoted to home building codes. These will be considered in May or June, according to Brock Rowe, interim director of Springfield’s Department of Building Development Services.

In Missouri, 23 cities have adopted the 2018 code, according to Rowe, including two cities with populations above 55,000, St. Louis and Columbia. No Show-Me State municipalities have adopted the 2021 code.

Grinder classified the 2018 version as aggressive.

“Our climate is kind of mild,” she said. “The international code is written to be used throughout the country.”

Meeting a more stringent code carries more expense, according to Grinder.

Miles Ross, government affairs specialist for the HBA, said that affordable housing advocates are also concerned about price.

“For every code you strengthen, there’s a dollar cost to that,” he said.

He noted industry estimates suggest for every $1,000 increase to the price of home construction, 338 local families are priced out of a home.

Indeed, the National Association of Home Builders compiles priced-out estimates, and it finds that 75.1 million U.S. households, or 60%, are unable to afford a median-priced new home.

Michael Hampton, president of the Springfield chapter of the American Institute of Architects, acknowledged there is a spectrum of opinion when it comes to code adoption. His organization, locally and nationally, comes down heavily in favor of energy efficiency.

“Typically, with every code, as they get newer, they’re typically a little bit more stringent relative to energy efficiencies in buildings,” he said.

According to Hampton, the city is doing a good job of moving at a pace that allows all stakeholders to adapt to and prepare for code changes.

Hampton added that his profession is committed to changing the energy picture.

“We as architects have the fundamental ability to really push and change the landscape of the construction industry for the next 10-20 years,” he said. “We’re in favor of any code enforcement that works to make the building industry more sustainable and have a better impact on climate.”

Unlikely allies
It was an unlikely mix of associations that appeared at the April 18 meeting of Springfield City Council to express their support for adopting the 2018 code.

The AIA and HBA have divergent views on aspects of the code, but both contributed to amendments to make it work for the city. Other groups contributing, according to an explanation of the council ordinance submitted by Rowe, included the Springfield Contractors Association, the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers and the city’s Development Issues Input Group – as well as the White River Group of the Ozarks Sierra Club.

Louise Wienckowski, chair of the Sierra chapter, told council her group has been advocating for the update since 2018. According to Wienckowski, data from the U.S. Department of Energy show that updating the IECC from the 2012 version to the 2018 version would save buildings an average of 14% in energy use and 17% in energy costs, though energy savings could be as high as 24% in usage and 27% in cost.

“In today’s climate of rising energy costs, these figures are undeniably significant to building owners, tenants and businesses,” she said.

She added that the city needs to think seriously about utility costs for renters, who may be students, low-income families, singles or older adults, any of whom may have limited incomes.

“If we’re going to compete with cities that have already prioritized energy efficiency in their buildings and overall philosophy, we should embrace the 2018 code completely,” she said.

Wienckowski conceded that she has some reservations about lighting regulations and would like to see LED lights mandated, but nevertheless, her group would like to see the measure pass.

A week after the meeting, Wienckowski told SBJ she may have been too conciliatory in her comments to council. She has since landed on a position of qualified endorsement.

“We don’t endorse the entire code because they’ve weakened it,” she said. “I’m very happy that they are putting forward what they are of the 2018 code – it’s high time; we’ve been so behind.”

Mark Gambon, board president of the SCA, also spoke at the council meeting in favor of passage of the 2018 code as amended.

He said the SCA is in favor of energy conservation, but he cautioned that the boilerplate 2018 IECC is “one big catch-all code.”

“To exceed the codes as presented will continue to put the city at a disadvantage in competing for economic development,” he said.

Rick Quint, president of Q & Co. LLC and a member of the SCA Board of Directors, also spoke in favor of passage, after several years of work.

“I’m excited about the fact that we’re finally moving forward with this,” he said.

He added the proposed changes will require all projects to be designed and constructed to meet the latest energy codes while not requiring unreasonable costs.

Don Underwood spoke up on behalf of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Springfield, and specifically its environmental justice action team, which supports the ordinance.

“It is our firm belief that the revisions are necessarily to prepare the community to deal with the challenges we all face as the climate crisis evolves in the coming years,” he said.

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