States Slow to Adopt 2012 International Codes

Julie Ruth
January 31, 2012
COLUMN : Code Arena | Codes & Standards

As regular readers of this column are probably aware, the International Code Council has recently changed their process of revising the International Codes. They went from having two complete code change cycles per edition of the code to just one. And they changed their timeline, with applicable deadlines and hearing dates. 

The goal was to have the 2012 edition of the International Building Code, International Residential Code and International Energy Conservation Code, along with the 10 other existing codes, published and readily available for adoption by the spring of 2011.

Traditionally, there was a delay of about a year from the publication of a new model code until we actually start to see it being enforced. The intent was for states and local jurisdictions to be able to review and begin the adoption of the 2012 edition of the International Codes during the latter part of 2011. They could then be well positioned to begin enforcement of them in January 2012.

However, that didn’t happen. Instead, there appears to be a delayed, and at best tepid, response to the 2012 International Codes. As of this writing, the only state that is enforcing the 2012 International Codes is Maryland.

Two states–Michigan and Pennsylvania–that traditionally updated to each new edition of the International Codes as they became available have also voted not to do so with the 2012 editions. The Pennsylvania legislature specifically voted not to adopt the 2012 International Codes due to opposition from the National Association of Home Builders, concerns about increased complexity in the 2012 edition, and economic concerns on the part of local communities charged with implementing and enforcing the codes.

Now, the codes are ICC’s product. Publication sales are the ICC’s primary source of revenue. When you start to have long-standing clients rejecting your newest product line, it can be a cause for concern. From the standpoint of our industry, it becomes more a question of whether or not there will be changes to the requirements for your product. And if so, when will they be implemented?

So in an effort to try to better understand that, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at what happened in Pennsylvania. Specifically, is there reason to believe the vote to reject the 2012 International Codes may be replicated elsewhere?

Cost and Complexity
Let's look closer at the three apparent concerns of Pennsylvania legislators. First, the economic concerns are obviosuly applicable across the country. Many jurisdictions have had to lay people off during the past few years due to the decline in construction, and hence a decline in permit fees. Most of those jurisdictions do not have the funding needed to bring those people back, implement a training program for the new codes, purchase new codes and standards, etc. So this argument is likely to carry a lot of weight in other jurisdictions as well.

With regards to the complexity issue, there are always changes between editions of a model code. That is not new for the 2012 International Codes. What is new this time around is that only one code change cycle was held between the 2009 and 2012 editions. There was no opportunity to catch any glitches that may have occurred during the first cycle, before the next edition of the code was published.

A prime example of such a glitch in the 2012 code is the update of a reference to the 2005 edition of ASCE 7–the document with windspeed maps used for determing structural requirements for fenestration products–to the 2010 edition. Maintaining reference to the newest edition of such a standard is necessary to keep a code up to date and applicable to current construction practices. There were some ramifications of this particular update, however, that were not caught in the initial proposals.

AAMA has submitted code change proposals to correct the ones that apply to the design of fenestration in the 2015 IBC. But not having had an opportunity to correct these prior to the publication of the 2012 IBC will be a problem we as an industry will need to deal with in every adoption of that code, going forward. There are other issues of a similar nature in the 2012 International Codes. These could be a serious impediment to the adoption of these codes.

Finally, we come to the other reason the Pennsylvania legislators decided not to adopt the 2012 codes–opposition by NAHB. NAHB may have reason to oppose adoption of the 2012 International Codes because of economic concerns.  The added costs of implementing a new code at this point for home builders are just as real as they are for local jurisdictions. And these are aggravated by changes in the codes that make building a home even more complex and uncertain.

NAHB Opposition
But opposition by NAHB may go deeper than that. ICC initially partnered with NAHB during the development of the IRC. NAHB has been permitted to appoint one third of the members of the committees responsible for the development and maintenance of the IRC since its inception. In exchange, NAHB promoted adoption of the IRC across the country. Today it is enforced in all 50 states, some U.S. territories and a few other countries.

That partnership, however, has seriously deteriorated as the ICC has struggled to respond to threats by the U.S. Department of Energy to take over the development of energy codes in the U.S. Initially the scope of the IRC did not include energy efficiency provisions for residential construction. The IRC drafting committee, however, chose to add it in. This created two sets of requirements for energy efficiency for residential construction within the International Codes–the requirements of the IRC and the requirements of the IECC.

Both sets of requirements were in place in the 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009 editions of the codes. DOE, however, has only ever recognized the IECC. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided the $1,500 tax credit for energy efficient windows, also offered states incentives for adopting and enforcing the 2009 IECC for residential construction. These incentives did not apply for the 2009 IRC.

The ICC was between a rock and a hard place. Do they stay loyal to their commitment to NAHB and promote the energy efficiency provisions of the IRC as well as those of the IECC? Or do they court DOE in an attempt to prevent the government from taking over development of energy codes in this country, and risk losing one of their most influential initial allies?

The ICC chose the latter path. The energy efficiency provisions in the 2012 IRC are based entirely upon the 2012 IECC. ICC also opted to remove any reference to ICC 700 from the 2012 International Green Construction Code. ICC 700 was a standard for green home construction that was developed through a joint effort of ICC and NAHB. It has also been rejected by DOE, as well as EPA, as not achieving the level of stringency they wished to dictate.

It would appear that the ICC may have made a serious miscalculation. And it may be one that will be detrimental to the organization for some time to come.

With regards to potential changes to the requirements for fenestration due to enforcement of the 2012 IBC, there will be some states, such as Maryland, that will adopt and enforce the 2012 IBC. But the implementation will be slower than previous editions of the International Codes. And it is likely to be less uniform across the country. The 2009 IBC, IRC and IECC may hold the record for the most widely adopted and implemented set of construction codes in U.S. history for some time to come.

Code Arena is brought to you by the America Architectural Manufacturers Association. Julie Ruth may be reached through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com.