When local construction company executives flip the calendar to Jan. 1, they will have a whole new set of codes that govern construction to deal with. Georgia will officially start to enforce the 2018 International Building Code, the International Residential Code dealing with plumbing and mechanical codes, but the adoption of the 2015 International Energy Code may be generating as much interest among commercial builders as anything else.
You’re asking, “Why is Georgia just now adopting 2018 and 2015 codes?” That’s just the way the state has operated for many years.
“The International Code Council is on a three-year cycle in updates to the codes, but the state of Georgia adopts a new code every six years. It’s going to be the six-year cycle for Georgia in 2020,” said James Martin, Rome’s assistant building official.
“Georgia review teams through the Department of Community Affairs take some time to examine their applicability in Georgia before adopting the new minimum construction codes. As they go through the entire book, they do some amendment to fit Georgia,” said Howard Gibson, building inspection chief in Rome and Floyd County.
The National Electrical Code is the only major code that will not change next year, but will be updated in 2021.
The new energy code has stricter requirements related to fenestration, which deals with air flow through buildings. There will be air leakage requirements just as there have been in the residential code.
Some of the major differences include a requirement for metering equipment used to monitor systems, to see, for example, if the heating and air is using more energy than the equipment is supposed to.
Architects will shoulder a lot of responsibility for staying up-to-date with the new requirements and he hinted that it would not be unusual to see a lot of ending projects submit plans for review before the end of the year and the implementation of the new code regulations.
“We had a class here on the new energy code, but only one architect group showed up,” Martin said.
Lighting controls are changing as well.
“Occupancy sensors are going to be required in locations where the lights automatically cut off if rooms are not in use,” Martin said.
“This happened the last code cycle, but the energy wasn’t involved with that,” Gibson said. “We actually had plans submitted prior to the code changes. One of them was done specifically because they thought this was going to happen.”
Martin said the energy code changes were supposed to go into effect a year ago but got pushed back a year because the Department of Community Affairs wanted to conduct training sessions across the state.
Both Gibson and Martin said the changes are not all that complicated. “It’s stuff they’re not used to,” Gibson said.
Rome architect Mark Cochran, at Cevian Design Lab, said that unfortunately he was out of town when the training session was held in Rome but his associate Audrey Kendrick did attend the meeting.
“It sounds like some of the changes could be rather significant,” Cochran said. “We certainly want to be mindful of how we proceed with them. It’s always more economical to work within a framework that you’re familiar with because the unfamiliar always breeds risk and anxiety. That increases cost so, yes, it’s true that we’re actively trying to get most of our projects in before the code change happens.”
The architect said that Rome and Floyd County are fortunate to have the team that is currently in place at the building inspection office.
“Most building inspection departments, if you call them up for help, they’ll tell you to look in the code book. We fortunately don’t have that problem here; they’ll help me find the answer. With the new code taking effect, it’s helpful to have that level of confidence in people,” Cochran said.
Cochran said he can foresee a day when the energy code butts heads with other codes. He attended a conference in Chicago two months ago when a fire marshal wanted lights in buildings to stay on at night so that firefighters could have a lit path to follow if they needed it. The energy code now mandates that the lights cut off.
“Who knows what’s going to happen. Some of it seems extreme, but I don’t think in practice it will be,” Cochran said.
While the changes to the energy code are likely to create some additional upfront costs for new commercial projects, both Gibson and Martin indicate that over the long haul, at least theoretically, the energy savings should offset the upfront expenses.
While the commercial changes are getting some attention, Martin also points out that there are some changes to the residential code as well.
The air tightness requirement would mean that all new homes will require a whole-house mechanical ventilation system.