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Idaho Building Code Board to vote on cuts to energy efficiency rules

A heating and cooling control on the wall of a house.
Eric Mcean

The Idaho Building Code Board could vote Tuesday on a controversial proposal to remove some of the building code regulations regarding energy efficiency.

The Division of Occupational and Professional Licenses, or DOPL, is proposing getting rid of some minimum efficiency standards in residential and commercial buildings as they relate to insulation, heating and cooling, and lighting, among other provisions.

DOPL provides “consumer protection and public safety” through its regulation of more than 48 boards, including the Building Code Board.

Historically, the latest edition of the International Energy Conservation Code has been adopted every three years in Idaho. Local stakeholders negotiate to fit the codes to Idaho’s needs in a process that some members said could take around 18 months.

The 2018 version of the code has been in effect in Idaho since 2021. But this summer, in the middle of a code cycle, DOPL proposed changes to the 2018 rules under Gov. Brad Little’s “Zero-Based Regulation” executive order, meant to cut “costly, ineffective and outdated regulations.”

Opponents to the energy code cuts – including Idaho Power, the Idaho Association of Building Officials, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry of Idaho and the Idaho Association of Cities – want the Building Code Board to hold off on its decision.

The City of Boise, in its letter to the board, called the proposal “negligent.”

“We just feel like there's not a real understanding of the impact of these deletions at a time when costs are going up,” said Kathy Griesmyer, the government affairs director for the city. “We certainly don't want to have people having to spend exorbitant amounts of money on utility, heating, cooling, electrical systems because their home is not energy efficient.”

Among the regulations that could be removed involve heating and cooling equipment efficiency and sizing, refrigeration performance, and lighting efficiency for commercial buildings, as well as certain air leakage testing in new construction, insulation around air ducts and HVAC efficiency for residential buildings.

DOPL staff have said a number of the energy efficiency regulations are also found under other regulatory codes, like those governing electrical and plumbing work, meaning they won’t be completely removed. The City of Boise, and other stakeholders, think that overlap is not sufficient to remove portions of the energy codes.

The Idaho Building Contractors Association, which supports the proposed changes, said the state’s current energy code requirements are inconsistently enforced across the state. In a written statement, DOPL staff agreed and added that the regulations can increase construction costs.

A City of Boise analysis from a couple of years ago found that for a single-story, 1,800-square-foot home, complying with the city’s energy codes could cost around $600 up-front, but that those adjustments would save the homeowner about $100 per year.

Those opposed to the proposed rule changes have also expressed concern that they could affect Idaho’s ability to qualify for new pools of federal funding intended to help localities improve energy efficiency in buildings.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $1 billion to help state and local governments adopt the latest International Energy Conservation Code, or to go beyond that, and the Infrastructure and Jobs Act included $225 million to increase adoption and compliance with building energy codes.

The Biden Administration sees reducing emissions from buildings as central to the goal of achieving a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035, one of the funding announcements said.

Idaho's proposed amendments don’t prevent the state or local jurisdictions from applying for these funds, DOPL staff said.

However, a state law passed during the 2022 legislative session, H660, prohibits local governments from going above and beyond the state energy building codes by implementing stricter rules.

Cities like Boise have some of their unique energy efficiency rules grandfathered in if they were adopted prior to 2018.

On Tuesday, the Idaho Building Code Board could choose to adopt all or some of the proposed changes, reject them, or delay the vote. The resulting rules will go before the Idaho Legislature next session for final approval.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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