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NGBS Green Deemed Equivalent to 2021 IECC for Code Compliance.

Michelle Foster
March 9, 2023

Maryland & Chicago Say NGBS Green = 2021 IECC for Code Compliance

The 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) provides an alternative compliance option for energy efficiency programs deemed to be equivalent.

R102.1.1 Above code programs

The code official or other authority having jurisdiction shall be permitted to deem a national, state, or local energy-efficiency program to exceed the energy efficiency required by this code. Buildings approved in writing by such an energy-efficiency program shall be considered to be in compliance with this code where such buildings also meet the requirements identified in Table R405.2 and the building thermal envelope is greater than or equal to the levels of the efficiency and solar heat gain coefficients in Table 402.1.1 and 402.1.3 of the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code.

Alternative code compliance options provide many benefits as they provide compliance flexibility without compromising energy efficiency performance requirements. The energy efficiency of our new buildings must ratchet up considerably if we want to tackle climate change. At the same time, we must be mindful of how new energy performance requirements can reduce housing affordability. Housing affordability hit a record low in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index released Thursday. Moreover, while it is all well and good to continually expect new housing to be more efficient, we must also devise meaningful, effective solutions to improve the efficiency of our aging housing stock which uses far more energy than newer housing.

The balance between increased efficiency requirements and cost is at the heart of the debate over the 2021 IECC. While many applaud its efficiency baseline, many builders also lament that by being overly prescriptive it increases costs unnecessarily. Fortunately, the International Code Council (ICC) allowed local jurisdictions to deem other energy programs, such as the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard®(NGBS) as an equivalent.

The State of Maryland and the City of Chicago both recently utilized this provision in the 2021 IECC.

Maryland determined the NGBS at the Silver certification level is an equivalent for the 2021 IECC. In Chicago, the City specified NGBS Green certification at the Gold level as an equivalent.

This is good news for everyone: builders, developers, Verifiers, code officials, and prospective residents. NGBS Green provides an alternative compliance path that is flexible without compromising the desired energy performance level. The choice of how to be code compliant allows builders to balance any additional costs. For local jurisdictions, an alternative compliance option like NGBS Green, which has stringent third-party verification requirements, allows the code officials to focus on the critical life and safety compliance issues. Plus, while code officials typically operate on a pass-fail system, Verifiers serve as building science experts and their expertise and inspections can help builders and subcontractors ensure their buildings are compliant. In the end, what everyone really wants, buildings that are not only designed to be high-performing but also are constructed to be high-performing. Our research shows that when builders use an above-code third-party program they are more likely to build code compliant buildings.

And while homes and apartments that use the NGBS as an alternative compliance path will meet or exceed the energy performance level required in the 2021 IECC, these homes will be so much more than just energy efficient. NGBS Green homes use less natural resources, are more water efficient, have better indoor air quality, are more durable, and have fewer other land use impacts, such as stormwater runoff. NGBS Green certified homes are better for the environment and better for their residents.

Further, each NGBS Green home or apartment building is required to have a detailed operations and maintenance manual to ensure that the high-performance features included in the building continue to perform for many years post-construction.

Last, and certainly not insignificant, jurisdictions that deem NGBS Green as an equivalent for code compliance will simultaneously allow the builder or developer to leverage their NGBS compliance for marketing and preferred financing eligibility. This can serve to further reduce the cost of compliance and will help make high-performance homes be even more affordable. And that is where the sustainability magic happens.

See our advocacy one-pager here. If you would like to explore this opportunity in your service areas, contact Michelle.

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