Why our building codes have to change.

I’ve heard smart people argue over who will bear the cost of the new 2015 energy codes being adopted across the USA. We have two choices in the St Louis area:  We can pay for them, and their health and safety benefits, by embedding them at the lowest and earliest cost - when homes are being built. Or, we can fail to adopt the 2015 ICC energy codes and pay a much higher health care, energy and environmental price tag downstream.
Many people do not realize the damage done to buildings and people by outdated codes and practices.  Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is caused by living in tight, poorly ventilated homes with a high content of man-made chemical-based building materials. This includes most homes built in the last 30 years. Research now shows that the off-gassing of these materials contribute to endocrine disruption, auto-immune disorder, allergies, cancer, autism and possibly Alzheimer’s, on a scale no one saw coming.  Childhood asthma, as an example, has skyrocketed in recent years as those chemicals are increased and locked into our homes. St. Louis continues to be a leader in rising childhood asthma rates, costing us millions. The St Louis area chose to weaken the 2009 codes, and is considering a repeat with the 2015 codes, even though indoor air quality is now among the EPA’s top five health risks, and these new codes help solve that problem.

The cost of the remedy is about $50/mo. per home for a typical 2000 sf home - and that consumer uptick is paid for with energy savings, so it’s break-even or better. The $6,000 hard cost to the builder, equates to less than $300 in actual additional construction carry cost. The only reason there is opposition to the code is the cost to builders, which is negligible. Certainly negligible in relationship to the bragging rights they inherit for producing world class safer, healthier, more efficient homes.

The new 2015 IECC energy code helps solve these environmental issues by requiring ventilation and pressurization testing before occupancy. This reduces the intake of polluted makeup air from gas fired appliance vents, attics, and crawl spaces. It helps assure occupants are breathing oxygen instead of other VOCs, particulates, high moisture and off-gassing. The cost is more than offset by energy savings, and the non-energy health and environmental savings is projected to be four times that, so it’s a win-win: It makes sense to make a safe product at the manufacturing stage, to save us all energy and health dollars downstream, every year, for every homeowner. If we do this, houses will last longer, people will live longer and dollars will go farther by doing the right thing and adopting the code without exceptions.

James Trout is a recognized building performance industry expert (Building Performance Institute),  real estate broker (former Director, Mo. Assoc. of REALTORS) and designer/builder (former  trustee, with the city HBA). James was also an ICC delegate, and certified indoor environmental assessor.



  1. Are builders responsible for the effect of the product after inspection or does the responsibility lie with the final inspector (county, local etc.) that says all is up to code?


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