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SECO Set to Consider Adopting More Efficient Building Codes

**Update - August 4:The Lone Star Chapter has submitted its formal comments on updating the state energy codes. To read them, click here.** The State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) has asked the public for input on whether or not they should raise the state’s minimum energy code for new buildings. As a subset of building codes, energy codes are minimum requirements for how energy efficient a new building must be. Aspects such as design, technologies, and construction practices determine a building’s energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. residential and commercial buildings account for approximately 41 percent of all energy consumption and 72 percent of electricity usage. Improvements in the energy efficiency of new and renovated buildings can yield significant benefits to the state’s economy and environment, in addition to benefitting the building owner and occupants. 

The current energy code in Texas for most buildings is based on 2009 standards.* SECO is currently deciding whether to adopt the 2015 update for both residential and commercial buildings. But how does that process work?

 SECO Energy Code Adoption Process Flow Chart

Image: State Energy Conservation Office

When new codes are published (every three years), SECO asks the public to weigh in. Essentially, they ask stakeholders (which includes you!) if it makes sense for Texas to adopt these more efficient standards. SECO also asks the Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL) at Texas A&M University analyze the new codes to determine if they are as stringent or more stringent than the existing energy codes. If ESL determines they are, then SECO may open a rulemaking and ask stakeholders for additional comment. After that, SECO decides whether to adopt the new codes.

So what happened in 2012?

When the 2012 codes were published, the ESL analysis found that their adoption would increase the efficiency of the average new home by 14-25% compared to the 2009 codes, and reduce peak power use substantially. However, the 2012 codes were not adopted, ostensibly because the 2015 codes were close to being published (The 2009 codes became the state minimum code on January 1, 2012).

Green in 2015?

While ESL’s full analysis of the 2015 codes is unfinished, they have indicated that the 2012 and 2015 residential codes are similar. In addition, a U.S. Department of Energy study has found that both the 2012 and 2015 commercial codes are a significant savings over the 2009 codes.

It’s worth noting that cities can and do adopt more stringent codes. A soon-to-be released survey of Texas cities found that 64 of the largest cities in Texas had already adopted the 2012 codes. Cities like Austin and San Antonio are already considering a process to adopt the 2015 codes.

Because these new codes require higher levels of insulation, better building envelopes, better windows, and give credit for use of renewable energy technologies, adoption of these standards should lead to more job creation. While more efficient homes will have slightly higher construction costs, the savings earned from lower utility bills offset them. A recent analysis by the Energy Efficiency Codes Coalition on the 2012 codes found that in Houston, the average home would go up in cost by about $1,600 but because of the energy savings, the occupant would save more money on their utilities than they paid in their mortgage within two years. To their credit, Houston went ahead and adopted codes that are equivalent to the 2012 codes.

The Lone Star Chapter is submitting comments to SECO supporting the adoption of the 2015 energy codes. To add your voice in support of more efficient energy codes, click here.

*Texas uses the IECC energy codes for commercial, industrial and residential multi-unit buildings. For single-family residences, it uses the energy efficiency chapter of the International Residential Code, or IRC. The energy codes of the IRC are equivalent to the IECC.