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Lawmakers want more control over Idaho's energy building codes

A construction worker in a yellow hard hat measure a plank of wood.
MOLLY MESSICK
/
STATEIMPACT IDAHO

Energy conservation building codes — which regulate how insulation, windows and lighting are constructed in residential and commercial buildings — have been a sticking point in the Idaho House for several years, with some lawmakers questioning why the state needs them.

A bill that passed the House with 53 yes votes this week would give the legislature more control over the energy codes and would prohibit local jurisdictions from enacting their own — unless they’ve been in place before 2018.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay), would lock Idaho’s energy building codes at the 2018 standards. The International Building Code is updated every three years, but if the state wanted to adopt the most recent version it would need to be through legislation instead of the rulemaking process under this proposal.

The City of Boise has energy building codes that differ from the state relating to efficiency in attic insulation and a requirement for a “blower door test” for new houses. Those would not be affected by the new legislation, but local governments wouldn’t be able to make further updates.

The bill has the support of the Idaho Building Contractors Association. Ken Burgess, the lobbyist for the organization, said energy conservation codes make homes more expensive. He said the organization supports maintaining the 2018 standards, in part because, without a baseline, local governments could institute their own.

Burgess told the House Business Committee last week that the contractors organization is more worried about what’s coming next, “at a time when you’ve got a Joe Biden administration, climate change activists that are working to try to alter these types of things.”

The Idaho Conservation League opposes the bill and said any required updates to energy conservation codes, including the implementation of new technologies, pay off and help consumers.

“It helps keep our monthly utility payments low by ensuring we are adopting these news standards and new codes,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, the external affairs director.

Justin Goodwin, the president of the Idaho Association of Building Officials, which represents local building officials and inspectors, said the organization doesn’t necessarily oppose the bill but wants local entities to be able to amend the rules for local concerns.

“Northern Idaho is totally different than southern Idaho,” he said.

As the bill is currently written, local governments could propose amendments under the statewide rulemaking process but wouldn’t be able to make changes specific to their jurisdiction.

A bill passed by a House committee Tuesday similarly locks the building, electrical and plumbing codes in place.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.