This article was originally published in the March/April 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1997

State Energy Codes: An Uphill Battle

by Steven Bodzin


Energy codes have helped many states and counties to achieve higher efficiency in new construction. But builders and efficiency advocates continue to struggle over how and when to change these codes.

Since the mid-1970s, building code officials and energy professionals have developed and promoted energy codes throughout the United States. Some states have developed their own codes, while others have incorporated the national Model Energy Code, or MEC, into local building codes. MEC received a big boost when the 1992 Energy Policy Act required states to consider adopting it. Since then, however, the building industry in Michigan has succeeded in repealing MEC, while the very conservative state of Georgia implemented the most recent version. Every state has its own story.

MEC is a national energy code based on the concept of energy credits (see Making Sense of the Model Energy Code, HE Mar/Apr '96, p. 21). Like most building codes, MEC requires some measures in all homes, such as a caulked and sealed envelope and insulated, sealed ducts. It also assumes a base-case home with reasonable energy efficiency measures for the local climate, and allows builders to reduce some measures in return for increasing others. The goal is a building with no more than a certain amount of heat loss. MEC is updated every three years by the Council of American Building Officials (CABO); the most up-to-date version is from 1995.

Some states, especially in the South and West, have developed their own codes. In Florida, the heat and humidity drove code officials to develop a locally relevant code that deals more with moisture problems, heat gain, and cooling systems. In the West, the great variety of climates--from Alaskan tundra to California deserts--have pushed states to develop energy codes that are sometimes stricter than the current MEC, especially in prescribing air sealing, ventilation, and insulation for extremely hot or cold climates.

In November, Massachusetts became the third state, after North Carolina and Georgia, to choose 1995 MEC as the statewide residential energy code. For Massachusetts, this represents a repeat of 1988, when it became one of the first states to update its energy code since the energy shocks of the early 1970s.

1995 MEC is likely to become the most widely adopted one yet, as it is referenced in the 1996 edition of the popular National Building Code from the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA). This effectively makes MEC the official energy code in jurisdictions that adopt BOCA, unless those jurisdictions specifically exclude the energy provisions, as may happen in West Virginia.

Figure 1. Statewide code distribution based on MEC standards.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced what it considered the most significant changes from 1993 MEC. The 1995 iteration changes requirements for air leakage control; uses Uo to describe metal-framed walls (weighting the results by building area, energy use, and overall envelope area); and is more specific in its treatment of windows, ducts, and crawlspaces. It requires windows to be certified by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) and mandates a maximum window assembly U-value of 0.44. 1995 MEC also closed some loopholes in the energy credit system.

Meanwhile, there has also been an anticode backlash. In December 1995, the Michigan Home Builders Association succeeded in repealing 1993 MEC, only six months after it was implemented. Ohio builders were stymied in a similar attempt in 1996.

At the same time, DOE has been distributing State Energy Program, or SEP, funds. These funds are often used to help implement a state or local energy code, or to help train contractors in code compliance. A recent study by Ed Vine at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that code support is an important part of encouraging compliance. He analyzed the code compliance of homes built under utility residential new construction programs. He found that in a given region, homes built without utility support were out of compliance ten times as often as those built under such a program.

Here's an update on the latest developments in residential energy codes from around the states, reprinted with permission from Bi-Monthly Status of State Energy Codes, published regularly by the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP).

In the five states omitted--New Mexico, South Dakota, Wyoming, Maine, and Louisiana--statewide energy codes are limited or nonexistent, and no changes are currently proposed.

Table 1. Residential Energy Codes
Code Description
ASHRAE 90B Primitive residential building standards, written in 1975 by a committee of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); written as recommendations, not as a building code
ASHRAE 90.2 More current version of 90B, written in code language and accepted by ASHRAE in 1993
Model Code for Energy Conservation The first model energy code, accepted in 1977, based on ASHRAE 90B. CABO took over revising the code in the early 1980s, and began releasing revisions on a three-year cycle in 1983, 86, 89, and 92
93 MEC More wall insulation in multifamily buildings

More wall and ceiling insulation in single-family homes in southern locations

Minimum R-value requirements for new duct installations

More readable, but generally more stringent, requirements than 92 MEC

95 MEC Air sealing requirements for recessed light fixtures

Refers to National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) standard for U-values of glazing assemblies

Provides U-value for products without NFRC ratings

Uses Uo to describe metal-framed walls (weighting the results by building area, energy use, and overall envelope area)

Duct sealing required on all supply and return ducts; specifically disallows duct tape

Bases assumptions on a newer version of ASHRAE Fundamentals

Assumes more wall framing

Eliminates option of insulating walls of ventilated crawl space rather than floor above

98 MEC Will probably pay more attention to cooling climates, including solar heat gain coefficients, shading, orientation, and other items gleaned from ASHRAE 90.2
Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, DOE.

State-by-State Status of Residential Energy Codes

Alabama A simplified version of 93 MEC, called the Residential Energy Code for Alabama (RECA), was adopted in March 1996. Two cities are considering adoption of RECA.
Alaska 92 MEC is mandatory for all residential buildings. A Technical Advisory Group is currently reviewing the unique state Building Energy Efficiency Standard (BEES) based on four years of experience. Airtightness and ventilation requirements will be up for discussion.
Arizona Use of Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) for residential structures is widespread. The city of Tucson, and the rest of Pima County, have adopted 95 MEC, but there are no initiatives for statewide residential codes.
Arkansas Arkansas adopted a statewide mandatory residential energy code based on 92 MEC. Builder self-certification is required even if local governments do not enforce the codes. The state is training HVAC contractors with DOE SEP funds.
California California's region-specific Title 24 regulations are mandatory statewide, with all areas at least meeting 92 MEC. Training has been provided to building departments and designers. State Energy Commission officials are considering changes to Title 24, and may eventually adopt MEC if they consider it strict enough.
Colorado Colorado's residential energy provisions, which do not meet 92 MEC, are mandatory minimum requirements only for jurisdictions that adopt a building code. For residential standards, the state energy office is partnering with the Colorado Home Builders Association and Energy Rated Homes of Colorado for voluntary compliance. The city of Fort Collins adopted a modified 95 MEC, which took effect July 1, 1996.
Connecticut Connecticut is likely to adopt the 96 BOCA codes by fall. The state received DOE funding to facilitate adoption of MEC and to provide MEC training.
Delaware 93 MEC has been adopted and implemented. The state received DOE funding to continue providing MEC training.
District of Columbia Residential energy codes do not meet 92 MEC. A Building Code Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet monthly, but the Energy Subcommittee has been inactive.
Florida Locally developed residential energy codes meet or exceed 92 MEC and are mandatory statewide. The state is in the process of revising the Florida energy efficiency code for implementation in September 1997. The state received federal funding to establish a Southern States Energy Board and to encourage market-driven energy-efficient construction.
Georgia 95 MEC has been adopted; it took effect April 1, 1996.
Hawaii Hawaii's residential energy guidelines meet or exceed 92 MEC but are not mandatory statewide; due to strong builder resistance, no counties have adopted the residential code. The state received DOE funding to update and distribute lighting standards.
Idaho New residential energy standards, which do not meet 92 MEC because of lack of floor insulation, took effect January 1, 1996. Builder self-certification is required if local jurisdictions do not enforce a code. Many jurisdictions adopt the Northwest Energy Code or MEC.
Illinois No statewide residential energy codes. The state and Chicago are pursuing voluntary residential compliance ventures through Illinois Energy Rated Homes training.
Indiana 92 MEC with state amendments adopted and enforced statewide. The state is also reviewing adoption of 95 MEC and has just completed code compliance and HERS training through a DOE grant. The state received DOE funding to provide consumer education about homes meeting the code.
Iowa 92 MEC adopted statewide, mandatory and enforced by local jurisdictions. Iowa is providing MEC training and education and training to integrate the use of HERS as a method of code compliance. Local utilities also support the HERS program with rebates. The Home Builders Association of Iowa petitioned the Building Code Commissioner to remove basement insulation requirements from the state residential energy code. A public hearing was held in December 1996. The Building Code Advisory Committee had not decided on the petition at press time.
Kansas* The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) adopted 93 MEC, which utilities are expected to put into effect by the end of 1996. However, in early 1996, legislation was introduced, passed in the house, and sent to the senate, to eliminate the KCC's authority to adopt and enforce energy standards for residential structures. In early May, the legislature adjourned without the bill getting out of conference committee. Similar initiatives will be introduced in the 1997 legislative session.

MEC training has been provided. The state received DOE funding to provide more training and to develop maximum trade-off flexibility.

Kentucky 92 MEC adopted statewide; the state is considering adoption of 96 BOCA (with either 93 or 95 MEC), with proposed July 1997 implementation.
Maryland Statewide energy codes are based on BOCA. The latest edition of BOCA is mandated as the state building code; a comment period on 96 BOCA began in January. The new code is expected to take effect in October 1997. The state received DOE funding to establish a comprehensive code training system.
Massachusetts The statewide residential code does not meet 92 MEC for certain fuel-specific structures. A modified 95 MEC was finalized by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards in December 1996, and will take effect September 1, 1997. The state received DOE funding for residential and commercial training.
Michigan 93 MEC, adopted statewide in July 1995, was repealed by the legislature in December 1995. The state energy code reverted back to ASHRAE Standards 90A and 90B; the State Construction Code Commission (which approved and proposed the adoption of the 1993 MEC) was then directed to adopt cost-effective energy efficiency standards by April 1, 1997. An Energy Code Ad Hoc Committee is stalemated.
Minnesota Residential energy codes meet or exceed 92 MEC. A state version of MECcheck, called MNcheck, is now available and is being distributed to builders. The state is focusing on airtightness and mechanical ventilation in homes for the next code revisions. The state received DOE funding to achieve implementation of proposed 1998 updated residential code.
Mississippi Residential energy codes do not meet 92 MEC. State legislation to adopt current national energy standards died in the 1994 legislative session, but state officials are introducing energy code adoption legislation this year.
Missouri No statewide energy codes. Legislation to adopt a statewide building code died in the 1994 legislative session. Legislation similar to the 1994 bill (voluntary codes) failed in the 1996 session. Reintroduction may occur next session.
Montana The statewide residential energy code is 93 MEC. Cities authorized to issue building permits are bound by the new code. The state received DOE funding to provide training and technical support for builders, designers, and code officials.
Nebraska The statewide residential energy codes do not meet 92 MEC. Legislation to adopt 92 MEC failed in the 1994 state legislature. The state is developing an incentive program to reduce the mortgage interest rate for homes built at or above MEC levels. The reduction in the interest rate will be achieved through a loan participation by the Nebraska Energy Office. Some pilot testing with builders has occurred. The earliest date any new codes might be adopted is spring 1997.
Nevada The state energy code does not meet MEC. Legislation to adopt 92 MEC died with adjournment of the 1995 legislative session. The state is pursuing voluntary compliance strategies. State code adoption has been impeded by a two year moratorium on new state energy regulations.

The counties of Las Vegas, Henderson, and Clark have adopted 92 MEC.

New Hampshire The state residential code does not meet 92 MEC. The Public Utilities Commission is reviewing 95 MEC and expects the process to be completed by spring 1997.
New Jersey The residential energy code, based on 93 BOCA, does not meet 92 MEC. The latest edition of BOCA has traditionally been adopted unamended as a statewide code. However, legislation froze the codes at the July 1, 1995 level unless the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) deems certain provisions of the new codes essential to carry out the intent of the law. The Codes Office of DCA has recommended that 96 BOCA be adopted with changes, possibly including deleting reference to 95 MEC and substituting ASHRAE Standards 90A and B as the energy standard for residential construction. A coalition of state stakeholders is working with DCA to improve New Jersey's residential energy standards.

A Code Advisory Board will review DCA's recommendations and will publish its findings in the New Jersey Register, probably in early 1997; a 30-day public comment period will follow. The state received DOE funding to promote the adoption of an energy code that meets or exceeds MEC and to provide training and certification for MEC.

New York State energy code meets or exceeds 92 MEC. Legislation has been introduced by homebuilders to replace the New York State Building Code, which is not based on a national code, with the latest version of BOCA.
North Carolina The residential code is a simplified 95 MEC. Training in the state is focused on the design community.
North Dakota The state has adopted 93 MEC, but the state codes are voluntary unless a jurisdiction adopts them. The state received DOE funding to promote local adoption of MEC and to integrate MEC training into the state's vocational education system.
Ohio 93 MEC adopted. Last year, the legislature considered, but did not pass, two bills. One would have eliminated the requirement to change energy standards when technological advances make old standards obsolete or inadequate; the other was a MEC repeal amendment pushed by the Ohio Home Builders Association (OHBA)

In November, the state removed criminal penalties for noncompliance with the state energy code. The state received DOE funding to provide code training in Cincinnati, and to work with utilities, bankers, and realtors who are involved in Ohio's HERS program.

Oklahoma There is no state energy code, except for state-owned buildings. However, state contractor licensing requires compliance with BOCA codes for some trades; the 1996 International Mechanical Code, which references 95 MEC, took effect in August and is the minimum installation standard statewide for mechanical contractors.

The State Fire Marshal's Office is reviewing the 1996 BOCA codes, and may make them mandatory for jurisdictions without local codes by July 1997.

Oregon Statewide energy codes meet or exceed 92 MEC. Some code changes were adopted in April 1996, with various others likely to be adopted in 1999. DOE money is paying for training sessions through the public utilities' Circuit Rider program. Oregon and Washington are both suffering from the loss of Bonneville Power Administration funds to pay for code enforcement, administration, and promotion.
Pennsylvania Statewide energy code does not meet 92 MEC. Legislation that calls for the statewide adoption of 96 BOCA including 95 MEC and repeal of Act 222, the old energy standards based on ASHRAE 90, passed the house the end of June 1996, but died in committee. It will be reintroduced this year.
Rhode Island 93 MEC took effect in January.
South Carolina The statewide residential energy code is 92 MEC with amendments that make it less stringent. Legislation was introduced to mandate the latest codes from the Southern Building Code Congress, Incorporated, and the MEC statewide (currently only 57% of counties have adopted a building code, with fewer actually enforcing the energy code). The bill passed the senate in 1996 but was rejected in the house after a contentious debate over requiring a supermajority (2/3 vote) in local governments to raise taxes or fees. The bill will be reintroduced this year.
Tennessee State energy code is 92 MEC. The state and the design community are reviewing 95 MEC for adoption.
Texas There are no state energy codes. Residential code training is currently being offered for designers and code officials, especially in jurisdictions that have voluntarily adopted MEC. The state received FY96 DOE funding to implement an energy efficiency mortgage program called Loan Star for new residential construction.
Utah State energy code is 93 MEC. Training workshops have been held. The state received FY96 DOE funding to complete the implementation of the new codes and to provide public education about exceeding the codes.
Vermont Mandatory energy efficiency standards, which meet or exceed 92 MEC, are contained in Vermont's land use regulations (Act 250), which cover approximately 50% of construction.

There are no state energy codes for the remaining commercial and residential construction. A Governor's Task Force was convened to study energy standards and recommended the adoption of a modified 95 MEC for all residential construction. The state Home Builders Association supported the bill. It died in the house early last year, but will be reintroduced again this year.

The state will introduce new workable residential code legislation in January 1997 that may have a better chance of passing. The state received FY96 DOE funding to provide compliance training.

Virginia 93 MEC is in place statewide. The Board of Housing and Community Development is soliciting public comments on adoption of the 1996 BOCA codes, which are expected to be adopted in April 1997. Though BOCA references 95 MEC, the energy code is receiving little attention.
Washington Washington statewide energy codes meet or exceed 92 MEC. The State Energy Office was terminated on July 1, 1996, with its functions assumed by other agencies. Washington State University will provide technical assistance. There is no threat to residential codes, although Bonneville Power Administration funding for code enforcement support has been eliminated. DOE granted FY96 funds to the state to provide code training and support through transition of utility restructuring and to support a codes hotline. As in Oregon, Washington's loss of Bonneville Power Administration funds will cut into code enforcement.
West Virginia The state energy code, based on 93 BOCA, does not meet 92 MEC. The State Fire Commission, through a compromise with the Home Builders Association, will introduce legislation in early 1997 to adopt 96 BOCA without 95 MEC. Stakeholders are working to get 95 MEC included. Residential and commercial energy code workshops are being held.
Wisconsin The unique residential energy code nominally meets 92 MEC; a state energy task force is studying adoption of 95 MEC in lieu of developing state-written standards. A draft proposal is nearing completion, for submission to the codes council. The state received FY96 DOE funding to promote home energy ratings to comply with residential code.
This list was adapted from BCAP's Bi-Monthly Status of State Energy Codes, January 1997.

 * Late-breaking News: Under presure from homebuilders, Kansas is considering a repeal of 93 MEC. Also, New Mexico has adopted 92 MEC.

Further Reading The Building Codes Assistance Project updates this list every two months with the latest developments. To get on their mailing list for future copies, contact BCAP, 1200 19th St. NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20036. Tel:(202)530-2200; Fax:(202)331-9588.

The study of utility programs, Residential Building Code Compliance: Implications for Evaluating the Performance of Utility New Construction Programs is available from Ed Vine, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Building 90-2000, Berkeley, CA 94720. Tel:(510)486-6047; Fax:(510)486-4673; E-mail:



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