The Code Review Cycle

The Code Review Cycle

Building Codes are on three-year improvement cycles. Every three years, an update of the building code comes out. I decided to partake in building code review, and just finished my allotted task. I come away impressed with the building code review effort.
For most citizens, building codes are probably a black box. We all know there are building codes, and that they somehow regulate (read: constrain) what gets built. We probably assume the codes prohibit practices that lead to unsafe buildings. We probably also feel that some codes are CYA codes: they cover someone’s posterior on the off chance someone did something stupid and got hurt.
I got involved with reviewing proposed changes to the 2018 International Energy Efficiency Code (IECC) by mass email. Yes, I answered a mass email looking for volunteers. I happen to be a member of the American Institute of Architects “Technical Design for Building Performance Community” (TDBP), which means I signed up to receive emails from fellow architects interested in the nerdy parts of being an architect. The AIA sent an email to all TDBP members asking for help with code review. They were thrilled someone from TDBP said yes.
The IECC deals specifically with the energy efficiency of commercial (not residential) buildings. The major portions address building envelope (exterior walls and roofs), lighting and mechanical systems. I reviewed building envelope proposed edits.
Many of the proposed edits were editorial in nature: better language, more consistent language, better consistency with other areas of the code. Some of these I found to have little beneficial impact. Yes, it might be better to use an active voice, but did it really improve how we build buildings?
Some edits addressed code language that was probably good, but would impact private industry. For instance, one proposer wanted to limit the thermal efficiency contribution of air spaces behind cladding. This might seem obscure, but has some basis in fact. Many claddings are ventilated, meaning the air space behind them has no capacity to hold heat. That air space cannot influence the wall’s thermal performance. However, some claddings are not ventilated. The air space behind them can contribute to thermal performance. A clue about the intention of this proposal comes from the nature of the proposer: a person representing the insulation industry. If air spaces behind cladding de facto cannot contribute to the wall’s design thermal performance, then we need to buy more insulation.
Other edits appeared to be driven by industry, but were nonetheless valid. A member of the gas industry wanted to do away with requiring rooms containing fuel-burning appliances (boilers and furnaces) to be insulated. While on the surface this requirement seems reasonable (in light of the need for unconditioned ventilation air), it turns out the Department of Energy found no energy savings comes from this code requirement. Rather than this being a case of an industry looking out for its own interests, it was an industry member identifying a useless code requirement.
This opportunity to review energy codes took up an entire Sunday. I nevertheless found it instructive on several levels. I hope to write more on the effort being expended by dozens of officials, professionals and industry representatives to make our building codes effective and efficient.

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Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.