(Written by Jack Milarch – NMHBA EVP/CEO – Originally published in the January 2011 Housing Journal)

Delay The New Energy Code?

A quick background review will help put this article in context. Over the past 12 months staff and members of NMHBA were very involved in Construction Industries Division’s processes to “New Mexico-ize” the 2009 model building codes. As readers will remember, in addition to the usual chores such as adding an adobe code and dealing with our construction peculiarities, we were working under orders from Governor Richardson to make the New Mexico energy code for residential and commercial buildings 20% more stringent than the 2006 (our currently adopted version) model energy codes. Climate change advocacy groups were active in the process and allowed full voting rights, a departure from usual norms. It was said this needed to be done to align New Mexico with Governor Richardson’s commitment to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Chu in return for accepting federal A.R.R.A. (stimulus) funds, although our research on that subject showed NM, like other states, has until 2017 to achieve that goal.

As voted on at the September 24, 2010 Construction Industries Commission, the NM code now has a two-part effective date with January 1 starting a six-month “either/or” period where buildings may be submitted for permit on either the old or new code, and July 1 beginning the mandatory compliance with the new code. At adoption hearings NMHBA asked that the new code effective date be delayed until at least 2012, hopefully giving time for the recession to cure and also time for the federal government to show a clearer picture of their future role in building energy efficiency codes. Our requests were denied.


Commercial Real Estate Push Back

While residential building codes have continuously required ever more energy efficient construction, starting in the mid 1970s, commercial construction has largely been spared from such mandates. As details of the new energy code, and in particular new requirements for commercial buildings, were studied in the late summer and fall, a “push-back” effort developed. This became an issue in the governor’s election campaign. During late summer then-Candidate Susana Martinez, during a discussion of economic development issues, told a large group of commercial real estate owners and developers in Albuquerque that, if elected, she would “roll back” any building codes which make construction in New Mexico more expensive than in surrounding states.

Since then, as more and more fiscal pressure is applied to our local governments, they too are becoming interested in the idea of a roll-back, citing the cost of new code documents and the cost and effort of training their plan check and field staff.

According to the International Code Council’s website http://www.iccsafe.org/gr/Pages/adoptions.aspx only a very few of New Mexico’s neighboring jurisdictions have gone to the 2009 code, and many are in fact using much less stringent energy efficiency mandates than even the 2006 model codes.


Defer or Modify?

Governor-Elect Martinez’s transition team has indicated they are interested in details of how the energy codes could be rolled back or delayed. NMHBA leadership has studied the issue and has offered two possible solutions:

      1. Option one would simply repeal or further delay the newly adopted 2009-based codes, including the energy codes. NM would stay on the current 2006 NM version of the codes until CID/CIC creates a new code. New codes are produced by the model code development organizations on about a three-year cycle. In practice this would cause New Mexico to “skip” the 2009 step in the cycle.
      2. Option two would be to stay on the current 2006-based codes but pull a few selected items from the 2009 draft into the existing code, including some energy efficiency measures such as those changes which were created to fine tune the energy codes for counties with elevation extremes (i.e. Otero and Sandoval Counties). Other items, besides energy issues, could be easily pulled back through amendments to today’s code. The impact of this option would be a partial update, potentially less costly for compliance.

Recently we sent an email to our local association Presidents and Executive Officers informing them of this development, and we had an unusually large number of responses. A majority of those who responded said they preferred “Option 1”.

Call or email Melanie at NMHBA if you have any questions about specific details.