“Future-Proofing” the Homes You Build
Editor’s Note: Lee Schwartz, HBAM’s EVP for Government Relations has been involved in the process of writing building and energy codes on the state and national levels since 1994. Lee was appointed in 2018 by the ICC to sit on the International Energy Conservation Code-Residential/International Residential Code-Energy Committee which is the initial gatekeeper for energy code changes in the 2021 codes that will affect millions of people (and not just in the United States), have a critical impact on housing affordability and have ripple effects throughout the economy as well. The committee heard close to 300 code changes over a six-day period at the end of April into early May. We’ve asked him to share some of that experience with you.

Is it your decision or theirs? Although they’ve self-styled themselves as “energy efficiency advocates,” a more accurate description might be the “command and control crowd.” I’m talking about the people and organizations who view the model construction codes, including the energy codes, as a means of accomplishing “social engineering” or “social justice” changes via building code requirements. Let’s be clear this depiction doesn’t apply to every advocate of increased energy efficiency including HBAM. Many efficiency advocates have consistently opposed these command and control efforts.

Still, the Committee Action Hearings (CAH) hearings conducted by the International Code Council for the 2021 International Building, Residential, Existing Buildings and Energy Conservation Codes had many such proposals which went beyond the issue of energy efficiency in residential homes.

Having failed in their attempts to justify measures such as a limitation on water use for each home in previous hearings they introduced a new term to the code discussions: “Future Proofing.” Future proofing can best be described as readying the house of today for the technology of tomorrow without any idea of what that technology will actually be. (28 years ago I “future proofed” my home by having telephone jacks installed on every wall in the house. You all know how that turned out.)

Chief among their measures were a series of proposals intended to require 240 volt “Level 2” electric vehicle (EV) chargers in all new homes. Other than the mantra of “future proofing” proponents were unable to explain how requiring the use of additional energy to charge the vehicle, would actually increase energy efficiency in a home. The least expensive cost for installation during construction was given as $1,700 (as opposed to the $2,000 they claimed retrofitting would cost). 1,203,000 new homes were built in 2017. The total additional cost in 2017 for home construction from this change would have been $2,045,100,000. Yes, that’s two Billion, 45 Million, one Hundred Thousand dollars in total costs for just one year and these were the “low-cost” estimates and didn’t include the costs of Tesla’s proprietary charging system.

There are currently 275.1 million vehicles on U. S. roads today. Only 800,000 are EVs.

Although claims were made that, by 2030, a majority of new cars sold in the U. S. would be EVs, there were only 199,818 EVs sold in the United States in 2017, even with with substantial government subsidies of up to $7,500 a vehicle. According to Forbes, “one 2015 study showed that $6 of every $10 of electric vehicle subsidies went to the top 20% of electric vehicle households having the highest incomes –specifically, households earning over $200,000 per year –while only 10% of electric vehicle subsidies went to households earning less than $75,000 per year. As a point of comparison, in 2015, median income for all US households was $56,516.”

Another proposed change would have required all one-or two-family homes to have “not less than one electric vehicle parking space” (including charger). Still another would have required at least 2% of parking spaces in multi-family (with not less than one space) to have a Level 2 charger. Another would have required an empty 240-volt single pole breaker spaces adjacent to every breaker serving a branch circuit with the label “FUTURE 240V USE”. Again, all “future proofing.”

Then there were the “electrification-ready” proposals which required homes with gas or propane water heaters, dryers, and cooking equipment to have a “dedicated 125-volt, 20 amp electrical receptacle that is connected to the electrical panel with a 120/240 volt 3 conductor, 10 AWG copper branch circuit to be provided within 3 feet from each gas or propane water heater, dryer and conventional cooking appliance.” Additionally, new homes would be required to keep “an indoor space that is at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 7 feet high that is within 3 feet of the water heater” open and empty to “future proof” the area for new, theoretically more efficient, electric water heaters.

It didn’t end there. Programmable thermostats are now required by the code. A proposal was put forth for requiring “programmable communicable thermostats” that can be monitored and controlled remotely, not only by the home owner but by the utility company as well. Representatives for the electrical power companies explained that they would only access those homes where contracts allowed them to take control of these devices.

Concerns about these thermostats being vulnerable to hacking as was shown in the case of NEST thermostats were responded to with the rebuttal that just about everything could be hacked these days and the admonition “everyone should be careful.”

Taking additional ability over how and to what temperature you heat and cool your home didn’t seem to be enough as those proposals were joined by others to regulate how and when a home owner can have their lights on and off.

Occupancy sensor controls that detect the presence or absence of people within an area and causes lighting, equipment or appliances to be regulated accordingly would be required in all homes. If you’re out of the room these items would be shut off and would only turn on when someone returns. Hallways, bathrooms, outdoor lighting and safety and security lighting would not have been affected by this proposal.

The ICC’s residential energy conservation review committee disapproved each of these measures. Unfortunately, the commercial energy conservation committee approved most of them. Multi-family (four stories or higher) are regulated by the commercial energy requirements.

The final decision on these and other proposals will be made during this fall’s On-Line Governmental Consensus Voting (OGCV). This leaves you with a choice: reach out now to your building officials and inspectors about participating in the voting process or get ready to “future proof” the homes you build. l