Expect Changes in Residential Building Codes and Energy Codes In 2021

A home site under construction with basic framing in place.By Jody Howe

Senior Energy Specialist

Did you know an estimated 75% of U.S. buildings will be new or renovated by 2035? Building energy codes ensure they use energy efficiently over the life of the building.

The benefits from building above energy codes are substantial. The first codes were enacted in the late 1970s and new versions are issued every three years since. The recent code improvements up the game on construction practices that will benefit the homeowner.

Effective October 1, 2021, are two significant changes in Oregon (see specific requirements based on your site):

SOLAR READY- this one is simple. A conduit must in installed running from a metal junction box near the main electrical panel to the attic (above insulation) or roof labeled “Reserved for Solar”.

STRUCTURAL- Wind, snow load and seismic Design Maps: 2017 ORSC; maps are formatted to show design criteria shifts near county lines. 2021 ORSC provides much more geographic specifics.

Make sure you “know first” and plan your build or retrofit. Here are just a few highlights where code has changed:

  • Exterior walls now require R23 – insulation. A slight improvement from previous code, but it provides significant improvement since wall surface on average accounts for large energy loss in the structure when combined with windows. “BIB” insulation (“blown in blanket”) completely fills the wall cavity: around all wires, electrical boxes, any wall oddity a challenge for standard batt making it far superior. Results receive high rating as it contributes to air sealing from its high-density fill as well.
  • Windows (the other part of walls) will see an increased U-factor to 0.27 from 0.30 (lower is better for U). Additionally, there is a new code for SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient) for homes not built to passive solar standards. Effects of 0.40 SHGC reduces cooling costs.
  • Whole-house mechanical ventilation requirements were also enhanced. Standards around duct sealing, including not allowing the use of duct tape on ducts, duct work in “conditioned space”, or buried in insulation.
  • Air sealing is now a requirement with efficient ventilation. This will be a significant change for many builders. Those involved with 3rd party certification or who have implemented above code practices are already doing these things. These can take some significate design changes, material and revisions for some. Ask your contractor if they use a checklist like Energy Star Thermal Bypass and Air Sealing.

What’s the “V” in HVAC? That stands for “Ventilation”. Your builder and HVAC people will be important when executing these new codes. HVAC has become the second important design needed to compliment any new structure.

Beyond the scope here, there are many intangible benefits from improved energy codes. These include the potential for improved indoor air quality, enhanced comfort dynamics, and improved durability. Of course, these potentials are all dependent on the quality of applying the code-driven changes.

CEC’s New Home Performance verification will take you to beyond the code requirements. Please visit our website to learn more about the New Home Performance Path Program.