White House incentivizes stronger building codes, standards

Dive Brief:

  • The Atlantic hurricane season began Wednesday and the White House seized the opportunity to launch a National Initiative to Advance Building Codes, aiming to encourage adoption of new construction standards, reduce energy waste and make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  • Through the initiative, the Biden administration plans to provide incentives and support for state, local, Tribal and territorial governments to adopt updated building codes and standards. The federal government will also “lead by example” and require its own new, large construction and modernization projects to have net-zero emissions.
  • Adopting stronger building codes can help the U.S. meet decarbonization targets while saving consumers money, say advocates. “This is exactly what the federal government needs to be doing to start the modern building transition,” Building Decarbonization Coalition Executive Director Panama Bartholomy said in an email. 

Dive Insight:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts “above-average hurricane activity” for this year’s storm season, which extends through November. 

The agency anticipates up to 21 named storms and six major hurricanes with winds of 111 miles per hour or higher. White House officials used the beginning of storm season to highlight the need for stronger “hazard resistant” building codes.

An April analysis by the Associated Press concluded power outages due to extreme weather have doubled in the last two decades.

Modernizing building codes will “not only save money by protecting people’s property and lowering energy costs, but we will also protect people’s lives by making our infrastructure more resilient to severe weather and the impacts of climate change,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said Wednesday at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. 

Hazard-resistant building codes save $11 for every dollar invested by the community, she said, and the new building codes initiative is “critical” to achieving the Biden administration’s climate and energy goals.

According to a White House fact sheet, the initiative will:

  • Assess 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.”
  • Utilize $225 million included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to support implementation of updated building energy codes, including through workforce training partnerships, while prioritizing disadvantaged communities.
  • Provide communities with technical assistance to help adopt new codes, and utilize mapping tools to track code adoption based on energy efficiency and local hazards such as flood, earthquake, tornado and hurricanes.

The administration will also “lead by example across the federal building portfolio,” the White House said, by “developing the first Federal Building Performance Standards to help achieve net-zero emissions across new and existing federal buildings by 2045.”

“Getting new construction in line with our clean air and climate targets is job number one,” Building Decarbonization Coalition’s Bartholomy said. “The Biden administration is rightly focused on high efficiency, all-electric design for new federal buildings. We are particularly encouraged by commitments to ensure that federal funding for housing and shelter will use the latest codes and standards from across the country.”

State and local governments are “chronically underfunded” on code adoption and enforcement, Bartholomy added. New federal funding can help “fill critical gaps, [and] result in much better buildings for residents and protect community health.”

Stronger building energy codes “will be critical for achieving the administration’s goals to improve home affordability and cut greenhouse gases,” said Lowell Ungar, director of federal policy at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “They’re right to look at every tool they have to ensure new homes don’t leave residents paying for needless energy waste.”

Ungar added that federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Veterans Affairs “are many years behind on updating efficiency criteria for the many homes they support, so they do need to step up now.”

HUD in July 2021 indicated it would update efficiency requirements for homes in its portfolio but ACEEE said it has not yet done so.

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