The State of Idaho’s board overseeing building codes is set to consider removing all regulations in the energy code except those governing “life safety” later this month.
The Idaho Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses put forth a recommendation to the Idaho Building Code Board earlier this summer to significantly pare down the state’s energy code regulations governing plumbing, HVAC, and electrical systems. Energy codes are building regulations governing a range of items in building construction related to energy efficiency, including insulation on hot water pipes, requirements for the sizing of heating and cooling systems, and tests measuring how well buildings keep inside air from going out.
This move comes after the Idaho Legislature passed HB 660 earlier this year, which hands the governing authority over energy codes from the executive branch to the Idaho Legislature. Any formal recommendation approved by the Building Code Board would go on for final approval at the statehouse.
The proposal sparked a divide among stakeholders and building officials statewide. Some cities and organizations argue energy codes are important to protect consumers who expect high-quality homes, while the Building Contractors Association and some other building officials and DOPL officials say buyers should have a full say in how energy efficient their home is and the government shouldn’t regulate anything more than what impacts the safety of residents.
The Building Code Board will meet on August 16 to discuss the possible changes.
Spirited discussion at negotiated rulemaking session
The philosophical differences between the state and some building officials came out during a four-hour rulemaking session at the end of July.
During the meeting, DOPL officials took feedback line by line through the proposed changes from city building officials, industry officials, and other stakeholders. Officials from the cities of Boise, Nampa, and Ammon heavily questioned staff on the changes and lobbied hard for keeping the protections in. But throughout the meeting, DOPL Operations Manager Michael Hyde kept steering the conversation back to the importance of only regulating things directly tied to safety.
For example, he said while he ran the state’s HVAC program, he received many calls from Idahoans who were frustrated that state code mandated the size of their air conditioning and heating units through the energy code.
“(Callers would ask) ‘why can’t I install a larger AC in my home? Why am I limited? It’s my house’,” he said during the meeting. “‘I am spending the money, and I moved to Idaho why can’t I build the home the way I want? Why are there sizing restrictions?'”
Charlie Allen, a building official with the City of Ammon in East Idaho, pushed back on the idea of removing these regulations, leaving it up to the consumer to size their own HVAC systems.
“Do you think we have any responsibility or input in the efficiency for homeowners because they are going to be paying the utility bills?” He said during the meeting. “I think that needs to be part of the whole process too. We don’t want to be putting in an AC unit that is oversized that is going to cool the home down in 5 minutes when we know that the AC units don’t receive ultimate efficiency until they’ve run for more than 10 minutes.”
Joe Barlow, a mechanical inspection supervisor with the City of Meridian, heavily disagreed. Multiple times during the meeting, he said the current code requires unnecessary items added to buildings and how he believed the state should leave the property owner and industry to decide what is best for each situation.
“The design professional is responsible for sizing the system for what the customers’ needs are,” Nelson said during the meeting. “(The homeowner) should have the ability to design the system for what (they need). It should be in their wheelhouse, it shouldn’t be regulated by the state. That is a civil matter and should be addressed through the civil system.”
Changes part of Governor Brad Little’s push to cut regulations, legislation
DOPL says there are two reasons for this change happening now.
First, this is in reaction to Governor Brad Little’s executive order to cut regulations in Idaho and his zero-based regulation initiative. This order requires state agencies to continually review regulations, their efficacy, and possible alternatives with the aim of reducing red tape and reducing the word count in Idaho’s regulatory statutes.