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Idaho Building Code Board finalizing changes to energy efficiency regulations

A construction worker uses a tool on the roof line of a home being built in Brick N.J. on July 10, 2023.
Wayne Parry
A construction worker uses a tool on the roof line of a home being built in Brick N.J. on July 10, 2023.

The Idaho Building Code Board is holding a public hearing Thursday on revisions to regulations governing construction, electrical and plumbing work, as well as energy efficiency standards for residential and commercial buildings.

The process is part of Gov. Brad Little’s “Zero-Based Regulation” executive order to cut “costly, ineffective and outdated regulations.” The energy efficiency rules, in particular, have been under scrutiny from the Idaho Legislature in recent years, with many lawmakers questioning their necessity.

The Building Code Board unanimously voted to approve a draft of the “zero-based regulation” trims this summer.

To Damon Woods, a mechanical engineer and associate professor at the University of Idaho, the proposed changes are relatively minor compared to the large cuts that were suggested, but ultimately tabled, last year. That decision followed some criticism, such as from the City of Boise, which referred to the previous proposal as “negligent.”

This year, the Building Code Board opted to only change amendments that were made when Idaho adopted the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code in 2021.

“So, it’s looking at just one page instead of 100 pages of standards and codes,” Woods said.

One of the proposed changes this year involves the “blower door test.” It’s a diagnostic tool that tells you how much air is entering or escaping from your home.

Currently, the building code requires that cities ensure this test is conducted for every fifth new home. However, the board’s new proposal doesn’t require the test, instead allowing contractors to choose between it and a visual inspection of air sealing.

“I think it will help rural communities that had trouble finding professionals who could provide the blower door test,” Woods said.

The Building Code board said this change will mean more consistent rules across the state.

Previously, the City of Boise had set higher standards by requiring air leakage tests on all new construction, but this past session, the Legislature revoked local energy efficiency policies that had been grandfathered in.

One concern Woods has with the policy switch is to abandon the blower door test requirement as it may become challenging to immediately identify homes that are built leaky.

“It's not something you can tell right on entering a home; it's something that you notice after living in it for a week or more,” Woods said.

He said this could lead to higher energy bills and could disproportionately burden renters.

After a couple public hearings and sign off from the board, the proposed changes will be presented to the Legislature for potential adoption next session.

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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.

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