Early in 2017, USGBC Central Pennsylvania embarked on an advocacy initiative unlike any other they had before. Dubbed “Icehouse Demonstration Day: Unfreeze Pennsylvania Energy Codes,” the event's goal was to raise awareness about the importance of updating our Pennsylvania energy codes, which are still stuck in 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
An icehouse task force included the neighboring USGBC-aligned communities in Pennsylvania, the Green Building Alliance and the Delaware Valley Green Building Council. For the event itself, two small sheds were designed and constructed, one to 2009 IECC standards and the other to above-code standards, and they were placed just outside of the main Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg. An equal amount of block ice was placed inside each structure on June 5. The experiment: Which would melt first in the intense daylight of summer?
About the codes
The IECC are a series of building codes created by the International Code Council that are updated in a three-year cycle with the intention of optimizing fossil fuel and renewable resource usage in communities all across the world. These codes have been enacted in almost all of the United States and its territories, but as individual states have the liberty to adopt the codes at their own pace, some are lagging behind others.
Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Louisiana, for example, are still using the 2009 IECC codes, while Delaware, Maryland, New York and New Jersey have moved on to higher standards. Overall, 14 states have adopted more modern energy codes than Pennsylvania for their commercial buildings, and 27 states require more modern energy codes for their residential buildings.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost increase to construct to the 2015 IECC vs 2009 is only $1,715 for a 2400-square-foot house in climate zone 5 (the majority of Pennsylvania is in climate zone 5). The homeowner will then see a return on investment rather quickly through the resulting savings on their electricity and heating bills.
Raising awareness, melting ice
On June 6, USGBC Central Pennsylvania held a press conference to publicly unveil the Icehouses, and all state legislators were invited. Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky made remarks, along with USGBC Central Pennsylvania Director Heidi Kunka, and our three major sponsors of Icehouse: Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, 7group and Reynolds Construction, LLC. The press conference was used as a kickoff for a green building advocacy day by various members of the three USGBC communities in Pennsylvania.
During the remainder of that day, volunteers and staff met with state legislators to discuss the need to update our building codes in Pennsylvania, as well as other related issues. During the three weeks of the Icehouse Demonstration, USGBC Central Pennsylvania representatives met with senators and representatives, as well as citizens who were interested in the project, to promote the idea of speeding up the IECC adoption process in the state.
When the blocks of ice were placed into into the sheds on June 5, they both measured 40 inches tall. One day later, the most observable difference was the internal temperature difference between the two icehouses: The 2009 one was 10 degrees warmer than the above-code one. Throughout the rest of the experiment, the temperature difference averaged 15 degrees.
The rate of ice melt was significantly faster in the 2009 code house. At the press conference, the 2009 house measured 34 inches tall and 58 degrees, versus 34.5 inches and 48 degrees in the above-standard house. Six days later, the 2009 house's ice was at 24.5 inches and 63 degrees, versus 50 degrees and 29.5 inches of ice in the above-standard house. Two days after that, the 2009 house was simply a puddle of water, and it took another five days for the ice in the above-standard house to fully melt.
To sum up, it took 15 days at an average temperate of 84 degrees Fahrenheit for a block of ice to melt in a house in direct sunlight without any air conditioning—evidence of the advantages of high levels of insulation, adequate air sealing and triple-paned windows.
The importance of new codes
Building a house above the current Pennsylvania codes is not a difficult or expensive task, only coming in $1,700 more than a code-standard house, with quick savings on your electricity and heating bills. The icehouse initiative provided a visible demonstration of the often invisible benefits of energy efficiency and the need to update our energy codes in Pennsylvania. It was the first time that USGBC Central Pennsylvania has embarked on such a massive advocacy project. We look forward to working on green building advocacy issues in the future, and hope you will join us.
USGBC Central Pennsylvania would like to thank our Icehouse sponsors: PA Housing Finance Agency, Reynolds, 7group, Ciesco Inc., Formatech, Intertek, Klearwall, Purpose1, Stealth Insulation, Steven Winter Associates and their partners: the Delaware Valley Green Building Council and the Green Building Alliance.
Currently, the Pennsylvania government is in recess, but we encourage everyone to write to or call their senators and representatives to encourage them to oppose Senate Bill 269, which extends the IECC adoption period in Pennsylvania from 12 months to 54, at which point a whole new set of codes would have been produced.
Contact your legislator