The speculation is now at an end, after two years of deliberations & countless meetings; as of March 12th the Alabama Energy and Residential Codes (AERC) Board voted to adopt a statewide building & energy code called the AERC which will go into effect October 1st, 2012. This was officially announced by Jim Byard Jr. (director of ADECA) & Karen Clifton from ADECA’s ENERGY Division this Wednesday at the Association of North Alabama Code Officials luncheon.
The Clif Note Version:
“The residential building code will ensure that every new home built in Alabama will be stronger and built to an internationally recognized standard,” Byard said. “The codes also will help homeowners and businesses save money on their utility bills by incorporating energy efficiency in the design and construction of homes and businesses.”
Effective October 1st all new construction projects permitted (including those undergoing substantial renovation) are required to meet the new AERC. For commercial projects, they have already been under a statewide building code so all that was changed is the mandatory adoption of the 2009 IECC. For residential projects which have never fallen under a statewide code, they have adopted the 2009 IRC which includes the “Energy Chapter” with some changes:
- The following sections / requirements were deleted; protection of exposed foundation insulation, programmable thermostats & under slab insulation
- Posting the “energy values” certificate on the electrical panels is voluntary instead of mandatory
- The IRC table for Insulation and Fenestration Requirements (1102.1) is replaced with table 402.1from the 2009 IECC. The only change there is the SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient) number is now .3 (instead of .5) which meets ENERGY STAR criteria for our area.
- The length of dryer exhaust ducts was increased to 35 feet from 25 feet.
- Speaking of Sprinkler Systems – no one can mandate them nor prohibit their installation. The only exception to this is if a city or county has already mandated them.
- Duct Leakage Testing is not required until July 1st , 2013 nor insulating ducts to r8 in the attics
- Updated: Blower door testing or specialized third party inspections is not delayed nor required per the new code as the “inspectors” will be handling that as part of their insulation inspection
- This one is interesting – there is a section stating that “above code programs” must be approved by the board. The question is does this apply to ENERGY STAR, LEED, Earth Craft, etc… & how about those considering the 2012 IECC? Short answer is they don’t have an answer for that yet.
Why October 1st & July 1st?
While there are numerous reasons, October was basically chosen to give not only the builders time to study the changes (which we will be writing more about) but also time for all the city & counties time to adopt the new standards. July 1st (for the duct testing & blower door / checklist) has been on the books since the beginning to allow for the cities & counties time to figure out how they were going to handle it, and if in-house give them enough time to get the necessary training & equipment. Having talked to many of the inspectors, it appears that most of them will be following Vestavia Hills program where they simply preform the checklist & have the duct testing performed by others.
The Enforcement Dilemma:
As I have mentioned in the past, the biggest question in this whole mess is how is this going to be enforced. Amazingly after interviewing a few building inspectors, Karen Clifton & at least a 10 minute interview with me(before the presentation), that seems to be the main item WAFF 48 picked up on as seen in the video. In short, this one will probably be heading to the courts for any jurisdiction that does not adopt the AERC, as the legislation now gives homeowners a legal standing.
Now if you are wondering why it would be going to the courts instead of the AERC Board… well that is because 2010-185 only gave the Board the authority to create the code. The legislation did not give them the authority to enforce the code, enforce its adoption, or provide arbitration. The enforcement of the codes simply falls on the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) which would either be the city or county you live in. While counties like Madison have an inspection department, many counties like Cullman do not so it will be interesting to see how many either start up an inspection department, rely on a city to manage it county wide, or roll the dice and hope to avoid court.
Code Adoption for Cities & Counties:
As mentioned above, all agencies are supposed to adopt the AERC by October 1st. Per the final regulation though there are a few little caveats; like AHJ may not adopt any code after March 2010 which conflicts with the AERC or amend provisions in the AERC required by federal law or regulation (namely the IECC & Energy Chapter in the IRC). No agency can mandate or prohibit fire sprinkler installations unless an ordinance has already been passed requiring them to be installed (Hoover & Mobile?). Any city or county can amend any of the other chapters or items as “local conditions require.”
Along those lines, if an agency decides to start their own building department, they cannot adopt any other code besides the AERC. However, if a city like Huntsville or Decatur (that is currently using & enforcing the 2003 IRC) wants to keep, change &/or amend their existing code that was in place before March 2010 – well they are good to go as long as they basically adopt the Energy Chapter. (Just when the builders thought life might be getting easier with just one set of codes)
Needless to say, there are still quite a few questions out there that Karen wasn’t able to answer & some items that are still being discussed. As more information becomes available we will be posting about that, a look at the AERC, how this will impact homeowners and builders (plus a few tips on how to ease some of your concerns).