It’s 2022, and Springfield and Greene County are about to update some building codes to match recommendations made in 2018 to encourage energy efficiency.
Currently, Springfield is using code recommended in 2012 by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the model code used throughout the United States and other countries. Updating to the 2018 code suggestions is expected to change rules for insulation, ventilation, light fixtures and other elements of construction related to energy use.
Proponents of the update say adopting these fresher building codes will lower energy use — and in tandem, lower bills for commercial buildings and people who rent units of apartment complexes.
Both the Springfield City Council and the Greene County Commission are working on updates to the different codes that govern residential and commercial construction. In May, the Springfield City Council will consider enacting the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code, while Greene County is weighing more sweeping updates from 2012 to 2018 codes.
On April 18, the Springfield City Council had the first reading of a bill to adopt the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The bill introduction included a presentation from Brock Rowe, interim director of Springfield Building Development Services.
Springfield already uses the 2018 International Residential Code, the 2018 International Building Code and the 2018 International Existing Building Code, among other codes from 2018. There is also a complete set of 2021 codes, but Rowe said there aren’t any cities in Missouri that use them.
“We do expect in 2024 to adopt the ‘24 code,” Rowe said.
Rowe said that 87 percent of the 970 cities in Missouri have not adopted the International Energy Conservation Code in any form. Some of the cities that have adopted the code include St. Louis and Columbia, and the Springfield suburbs of Ozark, Nixa, Sparta and Billings.
Springfield would be the 24th city in Missouri to adopt 2018 International Energy Conservation Codes, according to data from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Rowe said that staff members from the city’s Building Development Services department met and discussed code with members of the White River Group of the Missouri Sierra Club, the Springfield Contractors Association, the Home Builders Association of Greater Springfield, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce Growth and Development Committee and the American Institute of Architects of Springfield.
Localized code modifications
From those meetings and the work of Building Development Services staff, Rowe presented a series of modifications to the International Energy Conservation Code that he recommends Springfield adopt. He explained that the code is written in two books.
“The first section is the commercial provisions, which is basically any kind of new construction and it would also cover any major modifications to a commercial building,” Rowe said. “The second half is going to be your residential provisions.”
The bill that was first read on April 18 would update energy codes in commercial buildings. Updates to residential building codes that govern energy efficiency will come up in another month or two.
The Springfield City Council passed an ordinance to adopt the 2018 International Residential Code in 2019, with the exception of energy conservation provisions found in one of the book’s chapters. The ordinance contained language that energy conservation codes should be updated “no later than June 30, 2021.” The 2018 residential code took effect in Springfield July 1, 2021, according to the 2019 ordinance. The bill before the council now would update the energy conservation codes in accordance with what the City Council of 2019 intended.
The City Council will consider adopting energy efficiency provisions found in the International Residential Code in late May or early June of 2022.
Some of Springfield’s key players in building, development and energy conservation weighed in on the pending adoption of the 2018 code.
“We went out and met with stakeholders starting in July of last year, and we’ve met several times with many of them, and we came up with these minor modifications,” Rowe said.
One modification is a higher upper limit for peak consumption for what qualifies as a low-energy building. The limit goes up from 3.7 British thermal units at peak usage to 15 British thermal units (BTU).
Certain types of storage buildings, airplane hangars, agricultural storage buildings and certain types of large manufacturing buildings are exempt from the energy codes, according to a modification specific to Springfield. Rowe said this is done because most of the exempt buildings don’t require a great deal of energy to operate.
Another key modification involves shutoff damper controls for ventilation systems. Backdraft dampers are used to allow air to flow in one direction, while preventing air from flowing in the opposite direction. The Springfield modification removes a requirement in the International Energy Conservation Code for computer-controlled dampers, and allows for a builder to use simpler gravity dampers in a building’s ventilation system.
Several groups support code adoption
Louise Wienckowski, chairwoman of the White River Group of the Missouri Sierra Club, spoke to the Springfield City Council in support of the energy code update on April 18.
“We have been advocating for the update since 2018, when St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia began moving towards these updated standards. Those cities have all adopted the 2018 code since that time,” Wienckowski said.
In addition to lowering energy consumption, the Sierra Club believes that the code update will lower utility bills for building owners and tenants.
“The new standards will go a long way toward reducing energy use and energy costs in commercial buildings,” Wienckowski said. “Data from the U.S. Department of Energy Analysis shows that updating the 2012 IECC to the 2018 code would save buildings an average of 14 percent of energy use and 17 percent of energy costs.”
Better insulation, better ventilation, healthier indoor air quality and savings on electric and gas bills will be beneficial to financially vulnerable residents of Springfield. Wienckowski said this will especially apply as Springfield grows and adds more high-density housing.
“With the extensive development of new apartment complexes in Springfield, we need to think seriously about utility costs for renters, be they students, low-income families, singles or seniors who all have limited incomes,” Wienckowski said. “Poorly insulated and unsealed apartment buildings often result in unaffordable utility costs, which disproportionately impact low-income residents.”
The code update also gained the support of the Springfield Contractors Association, whose director, Megan Short, spoke to the City Council.
“We definitely do support moving forward,” Short said. “We actually supported moving to 2018 previously, so this is not new for us. We think that every developer should be able to kind of make certain decisions on their own, though, based off of the use of the building, so that’s why we feel that these exemptions are minor but important for economic development for our city.”
Outdoor lighting and the move to LED
One of the major localized modifications involves controls for outdoor lighting, which is also governed by Springfield’s ordinances on light pollution.
“We want to make those non-mandatory,” Rowe said. “Lighting controls have historically been the decision of owners of the building. We’ve also realized that lights are not major consumers of electricity in most buildings.”
Rowe said that outdoor lighting has also undergone some natural energy-conserving evolution with the development of solid-state lights, such as light-emitting diode (LED) lights. The use of LED lights, and the gradual phasing out of incandescent bulbs and lamps, could reportedly cut electricity consumption by 46 percent from its current rate by 2030, according to data Rowe obtained from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Rowe believes LED and other solid-state lighting technology will render the requirements for lighting in the International Energy Conservation Codes to near meaninglessness.
“Exterior lighting is regulated by Springfield city ordinance,” Rowe said. “That section limits the amount of lights that can spill over onto other properties, the direction of lights and how many foot candles the lights can be.”
A foot candle is a unit of measurement calculated as lumens per square foot, and is used to measure the intensity of light from poles and standards to the ground. Foot-candle measurements are commonly used to determine how bright the lights in outdoor parking lots can be while still complying with light pollution ordinances.
Councilman Andy Lear asked about whether or not Greene County was moving toward using 2018 codes.
Lear said an argument often made to discourage updating to the new code is that it will drive builders out of the city limits, as Greene County hasn’t yet adopted the updates.
Greene County likely to follow suit with code adoption
The Greene County Commission discussed the steps it will need to take to adopt the 2018 International Building Code and its subsidiary codes at a meeting April 14.
Greene County Director of Resource Management Kevin Barnes told the three commissioners that an initiative to update building codes would likely happen after the new Greene County Jail project is finished at the end of April. Key staff members are concentrating on the jail project and will shift to code updates once the jail is open.
“We probably won’t do any big pushes until after we finish the jail up, but we do want to adopt the 2018 code,” Barnes said.
Like Springfield, Greene County presently uses building and energy codes from 2012.
“There are a lot of benefits to energy conservation,” Barnes said. “The industry has come so far since we did our last code adoption, that there are things in the code that we probably don’t need to adopt, they’re just part of the industry.”
Barnes said the main point of contention is determining which elements of a building will be inspected and defining what any given building’s inspection points will be.
“We don’t need more inspection points because we already have a lot, so the building envelope — there is a lot of controversy on what’s saving it and what is the local government’s role in that to play?” Barnes said.
The goal of the inspection program is to make sure that buildings are constructed to code, but not to create burdens for builders that can be passed on to buyers, Barnes said.
“We don’t want to increase the cost of a house in Greene County that’s already expensive,” Barnes said.
Greene County First District Commissioner Rusty MacLachlan is also a contractor.
“Houses have to be structurally sound, and I think that’s an important role that the county plays, but I think market forces have already caused houses to be much more efficient from an energy standpoint. Really, the market needs to drive that, because otherwise, we’re just making homes much more expensive. Affordable housing was near the top of the list of concerns for our community,” MacLachlan said.
“We’ll take a more common-sense approach, I think that has been the county’s stance on that since before I got here, and then do the things that make sense for us to expect, but then also allow the industry to play a role in that,” Barnes said.
Sometimes the industry has to adapt. Barnes gave an example of how the construction of brick buildings has evolved over time to balance energy efficiency and insulation with healthy ventilation.
“The envelopes became so tight that you had to add fresh air requirements,” Barnes said. “There’s probably a better way to tackle that, but some of the things we looked at were like when we do brick. The brick has to be installed so that there’s an air gap. We see in the industry, people aren’t installing that, so now we have moisture problems, and we’ve been building brick buildings for over 100 years.”
Sometimes, builders have to learn new ways of construction and new techniques in order to pass inspection, but Barnes said it’s also important to note that inspectors don’t have the time to watch over the contractors’ shoulders on every construction project in Greene County.
“We don’t want to stand out there and watch people put up brick,” Barnes said. “Part of this is just going to be an educational component.”
Inspectors in the Greene County Resource Management Department don’t specialize, as builders might see in other cities and counties where one inspector might only examine electrical work, while a different inspector only looks at plumbing. In unincorporated Greene County, one inspector goes to one job site to make sure that the project complies with building codes. Barnes sees the pending update to the building codes as a chance to foster good relationships with contractors.
“We’re going to try to take advantage of it to be more in touch with the development community, especially the home builders,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a good staff.”
Barnes said consistency from one inspection to the next will be important after the Greene County Commission adopts the 2018 codes.
“We believe there is a benefit to having a building code and inspections,” Barnes said. “We see all the counties around us that don’t have all of the issues. We’d like to eliminate those issues, and people trust that when they get a product in Greene County it’s a good product. We hate to see the fact where owners have to sue builders and it’s been a county inspected building, but we also know we can’t inspect every little thing.”
Springfield’s building codes
- 2018 International Residential Code (IRC)
- 2018 International Building Code (IBC)
- 2018 International Existing Building Code (IEBC)
- 2018 International Mechanical Code
- 2018 International Plumbing Code
- 2018 International Fuel Gas Code
- 2018 International Fire Code
- 2018 Swimming Pool and Spa Code
- 2018 International Private Sewer Disposal Code
- 2017 National Electrical Code (NEC)
- 2012 International Energy Conservation Code
- 2009 ICCA117.1 Accessible and Useable Buildings and Facilities (ANSI)
- 2017 ICC 300 American National Standard for Bleachers, Folding and Telescopic Seating, and Grandstands
- 2014 ICC 500 Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters Land Use Inspectors
- 2018 International Property Maintenance Code
Rance Burger is the government reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He covered a mixture of news, government, crime, business and sports along different stops in Missouri for 15 years. He most recently was Editor of the Christian County Headliner News. Rance grew up in Pryor, Oklahoma, and holds a bachelor of journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.