July 2014

OP Ed: It’s Time for New Mexico to Adopt Modern Building Energy Codes


Tammy Fiebelkorn


What year is it? For New Mexico’s building industry, it’s still 2009. That’s the outdated version of the International Energy Conservation Code that New Mexico still follows.

New Mexico skipped right over the 2012 codes without any discussion about updating them.

When consumers buy a new house, they enjoy more comfort and affordability if the house is built to the most current building energy codes,” said Jim Meyers of Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). “Homebuyers in New Mexico are missing that opportunity.”

Building code templates are updated every three years, and those templates are made available for jurisdictions to tailor and adopt. The International Code Council (ICC) develops these templates with input from building officials, builders and industry professionals from across the nation. The ICC regularly updates the energy-conservation codes—along with codes for plumbing, electrical and general construction—to ensure that new buildings are constructed using the latest in building technology and provide the best value to building owners and users.

The most recent 2015 energy codes were released on June 1, 2014, and New Mexico now has an opportunity to catch up. The Construction Industries Commission (CIC) should begin the process of adopting the 2015 codes now, so they can go into effect at the beginning of next year.

There are many reasons for New Mexico to adopt the 2015 energy conservation codes. The most obvious one is that building science is continually evolving, with new products and construction methods being introduced continuously to the market. Building codes are meant to keep the building industry current with the latest in building science. New Mexicans should reap the benefits of the latest innovations in the building industry, making new buildings as inexpensive to operate and as comfortable as possible.

Another important reason to upgrade the New Mexico state energy-conservation codes is the new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards recently proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to combat climate change. The standards call for a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 2030. The proposed standards give states the flexibility to include emissions reductions from energy-efficiency strategies in their compliance plans, including greater building-energy efficiency through codes.

The state’s decision to move forward with adoption of the 2015 building codes or remain stagnant with the 2009 version will be made by top state leaders. Under Gov. Martínez, steps in this area have all been backward. There was the ill-fated attempt, on Gov. Martínez’s first day in office, to block the publication of the energy-efficient New Mexico code (among several other environmental protections) that was developed during the past administration via a year-long public process. The state Supreme Court overruled that attempt, and the energy-saving code was published.

The next step backward was the administration’s appointment of new members to the CIC, who voted, through a questionable process, to replace the progressive codes with 2009 base codes. Several environmental and policy groups, as well as businesses, builders and individuals, filed an appeal of this roadblock, and it is still in progress. The Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the appellants on one of the seven legal issues included in the appeal. The remaining six issues await deliberation. In the meantime, the state continues to operate under the rolled-back version of the 2009 codes.

Rather than continuing to fight over which version of 2009 codes will remain in effect in New Mexico, many are calling upon the Martínez administration and the CIC to immediately begin the process of reviewing and adopting the 2015 energy code. Revisions to the template need to be tailored to New Mexico’s unique geography and traditional building methods and can take several months. The process should begin now in order to allow the 2015 codes to become effective in 2015. Building industry leaders are coming out in favor of adoption of 2015 codes.

The idea of skipping the 2012 codes in favor of immediately adopting the 2015 version is gaining traction among many of the state’s building professionals, including members of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association (SFAHBA), members of the CIC and staff at the Construction Industries Division. It just makes sense, especially since the 2015 codes formally recognize an energy-performance path that is used extensively by builders in New Mexico,” said Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the SFAHBA.

How does New Mexico compare with other states in SWEEP’s territory? Of the three Southwest states that have statewide energy codes, New Mexico lags behind Nevada and Utah, both of which have adopted the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code. Although Arizona does not have a statewide code, a 2013 study found that nearly 60 percent of all construction in the state occurs in jurisdictions that have adopted the 2012 energy code.

Will New Mexico adopt 2015 energy codes that offer savings and added comfort to building owners and users? Or will we continue to lag behind in code development, delivering six-plus-year-old building science and less-than-optimal construction of new buildings statewide? Since the governor sets the tone for many important issues in this state—including updated building energy codes—we look for either Gov. Martínez or her successor to move New Mexico forward and get these upgrades done.


Tammy Fiebelkorn is the state representative for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a public-interest organization that advances energy efficiency in the Southwestern states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. www.swenergy.org




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