The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) meets the need for a modern conservation code for energy-efficient buildings to include energy-efficient materials. Every three years, a new, current, up-to-date code is put in place to regulate those needs.

The end goal of the IECC is to make optimal use of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources, no matter the size of a community. Since the IECC focuses on buildings, there are separate installations of the code for both commercial and low-rise buildings.

IECC’s 2021 code has changed since 2018, with new provisions and minimum regulations and requirements for all buildings. Here’s what we can learn from the IECC 2021 energy code, which includes the proposals for the code and setbacks.

Improved Efficiency

With the updated code, all buildings' energy efficiency, both commercial and residential, is estimated to rise by about 10 percent. High standards for lighting, higher thermal efficiency for water heaters and equipment, and increased insulation requirements will help commercial buildings become more energy-efficient.

This update to the code should be more straightforward for builders to implement these regulations. Additionally, builders may have more flexibility because of this change.

Electric Vehicle (EV)-Friendly Parking Lots

Beginning in 2021, all new buildings must implement at least one charging station for electric vehicles. When charging stations are built considering the building's infrastructure, it is more cost-effective than building the structure and later adding the electric plug-in station.

Although over 70 percent of voters opted for this addition in the voting process, others still tried to oppose it, saying it doesn't belong in the code. However, the IECC upheld this as a building code standard.

Based on the size of the infrastructure, the level of electric vehicle stations would vary. For smaller buildings, the wiring could change. For larger installations, whole stations may need to be installed.

Controlled Plug Loads

Another change to the IECC for 2021 includes mandatory plug load controls. This would be required for large-scale commercial buildings. Typical plug loads come from electronic devices like laptops, printers, telephones, coffee makers and lighting, like lamps.

Plug loads are the amount of energy used by products plugged into your standard power outlet or power cords. They tend to be overlooked, even in businesses or buildings that are trying to conserve energy. While it’s possible to train managerial teams to track energy and financial waste, designing controls in building construction can combat this issue at the conception stage.

Plug loads sometimes account for an average of 30 percent of energy consumption. A lot of devices that are plugged in stay plugged in, leeching energy unnecessarily. With mandatory controls, buildings can drastically reduce their power consumption and energy waste.

More Renewable Energy

More renewable energy is always a benefit for the environment and is a staple for the International Energy Conservation Code. Renewable energy comes from sources such as the sun, wind and water. An increase in renewable energy means a decrease in carbon emissions.

The appendices of IECC 2021 include the Zero Code Renewable Energy Appendix. This seeks to produce enough renewable energy to reach zero-net carbon. This will be required for new commercial, residential and institutional buildings for jurisdictions that adopt the appendix.

Making the switch to renewable energy while building new structures would drastically decrease the amount of carbon emissions, which is an extreme benefit for the environment.

Challenges to Implementing Codes

A majority of states have yet to adopt these guidelines put in place by the IECC. Many continue to use the code from all the way back in 2009, and only some have passed the 2018 code. It will take some time for states to adopt the 2021 code.

The entire voting process is quite extensive. Voters have to go through registration to ensure they are eligible to vote on the code. Although the voters are supposed to decide on the proposals, the board can and sometimes does overturn them, typically justifying doing so by claiming the recommendations are beyond the scope of the IECC.

Building for the Future

The goal of building for the future is to erect a structure and do it right the first time. Doing it correctly the first time will allow the building to last for decades without having to use more energy to make replacements or rebuild certain parts of the structure.

While many of these efficiency proposals were overturned, some states and local governments seek to implement the energy conservation practices in their towns. It will still take years of voting and pushing for efficient energy models, but environmentalists are hopeful that new buildings will implement energy-conscious (and ultimately business-friendly) methods.