A new building codes initiative launched by the White House will boost resilience to the impacts of climate change, lower utility bills for homes and businesses and prioritize underserved communities.
The Biden-Harris Administration announced a national initiative to advance building codes to help state, local, Tribal and territorial governments adopt the latest, current building codes and standards.
Modern building codes and standards provide a range of smart design and construction methods that save lives, reduce property damage, and lower utility bills—for example, by ensuring mechanical insulation keeps heating and cooling costs low, which creates energy efficiency.
Additionally, modernized energy codes can save households an average of $162 dollars each year on utility bills, which is especially significant in reducing energy burden for low-income households. Unfortunately, nearly two out of every three communities in the U.S. have not adopted the latest building codes and, as a result, are vulnerable to higher energy costs.
Earlier this year, the National Climate Task Force approved the new national initiative to advance building codes to accelerate the adoption of modern building codes to improve resiliency, create good-paying jobs and lower energy bills. Through this initiative, the administration will:
- Review federal funding and financing of building construction, to ensure federally-supported housing and other building projects follow modern building codes and standards to the greatest extent feasible, while creating good-quality jobs and advancing Administration efforts to boost affordable housing supply, with agencies reporting to the National Climate Task Force on progress.
- Harness $225 million in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) to support implementation of updated building energy codes and create good-quality jobs, including through workforce training partnerships and direct support to state and local agencies.
- Provide incentives and support for communities to adopt current building codes and standards by providing technical assistance, implementing proven strategies and best practices.
- Lead by example across the federal building portfolio, by seizing opportunities to advance “above-code” resilience and energy efficiency standards in new projects, as well as developing the first Federal Building Performance Standards to help achieve net-zero emissions across new and existing federal buildings by 2045.
National Initiative To Advance Building Codes
Modern codes – developed and updated by the International Code Council, National Fire Protection Association, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and other organizations that rely on expert input from scientists and engineers – provide sets of model standards for several aspects of building design, including energy efficiency and improving resilience to various hazards such as wildfires, hurricanes, and floods. Communities that have adopted modern building codes are already saving an estimated $1.6 billion a year in avoided damage from major hazards, with projected cumulative savings of $132 billion through 2040—a figure that will become much higher if more communities adopt modern codes.
A recent analysis from FEMA categorized states based on their building code uptake and found that 39 states fell into the lowest category, meaning less than 25 percent of the state’s communities were covered by the latest hazard-resistant codes. Nationwide, only about 35 percent of counties, cities, and towns have the latest codes in place, leaving millions of Americans more vulnerable to extreme weather and higher energy costs.
Key federal agencies will collaborate to increase support and incentives for modern code adoption.
As part of this review, which will be reported to the National Climate Task Force, specific efforts include:
- FEMA will implement its new Building Codes Strategy, which will integrate and, where legally permissible, require current building codes in its programs, policies and guidance.
- The DOE will deploy $225 million from the IIJA to support building energy code adoption, enforcement, training and technical assistance at the state and local level. With these funds, DOE is launching a Resilient and Efficient Codes Implementation program to advance energy efficiency and resilience through building codes by, among other things, supporting sustained state code implementation efforts, creating good-paying union jobs, and advancing environmental and energy justice priorities. DOE projects that through 2040, model energy codes, will deliver $138 billion in energy cost savings and prevent carbon emissions equivalent to what 195 million gasoline cars emit in a year.
Review Federal Funding and Financing to Incorporate Modern Codes
The federal government implements a wide range of programs that fund or finance building construction—from disaster recovery programs at FEMA and the Small Business Administration, to federally-assisted housing supported by the Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Treasury, HUD and other agencies.
To increase the use of modern building codes across these projects, the MitFLG will undertake a comprehensive review of agency programs that support new construction or substantial rehabilitation of homes and other buildings, through grants, loans, funding, financing or technical assistance. Agencies will then work to update programs to incorporate the latest consensus-based codes, while also identifying opportunities for greater ambition. For example, HUD will:
- Require increased resilience and energy efficiency standards for residential properties newly constructed or substantially rehabilitated with the $5 billion in 2020 and 2021 Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds.
- Seek to require above-code green and resilient construction standards in HUD-assisted housing wherever feasible, especially in competitive funding announcements, and continue developing new incentives for above-code standards, including through the Multifamily and Residential Healthcare Facility Green Mortgage Insurance Premium programs.
The goal of this interagency effort will be to ensure building activities receiving federal funding or financing will meet or exceed the latest building codes to the greatest extent feasible regardless of local code adoption.
Lead by Example Across the Federal Building Portfolio
The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to expand its efforts to adopt ambitious, above-code resilience and energy efficiency standards across the federal building portfolio. As part of ongoing work to implement the President’s Executive Order on Federal Sustainability:
- Federal agencies will design all large new construction and modernization projects (above 25,000 gross square feet), starting in Fiscal Year 2022, to be net-zero emissions—which includes the use of all-electric equipment and appliances and efficiency measures significantly above current model codes.
- The Administration will implement the first-ever Federal Building Performance Standards, being developed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the General Services Administration, DOE, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to advance the retrofits of existing Federal buildings and establish metrics, targets, and tracking methods to reach the Administration’s federal carbon emissions reduction goals—including a net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, with a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2032.
The LMCT encourages the use of mechanical insulation to help create energy efficiency, reduce energy costs and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Mechanical insulation properly installed and maintained by highly trained and highly skilled members of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers can help the administration reach its net-zero emissions building portfolio goal.