The GHB Interview: Sarah Yerkes

Senior Vice President of Government Relations, International Code Council, Sara Yerkes of the ICC offers insight into changing building codes and ways homebuilders are pioneering the green building movement.

GREEN HOME BUILDER: What is ICC proud to have accomplished in 2017?

SARA YERKES: We are proud to have released the 2018 International Codes (I-Codes) in the fall. This set of coordinated, modern, efficient building codes is used in all 50 U.S. states and many other countries, and results in the highest level of building safety in the industrial world. For homebuilders, significant changes were approved in the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC), which improves compliance options and reduces the cost of construction.

For example, a new Table R602.3(6) was added to allow the height of bearing studs to be increased to 12 feet, under specific conditions. This change alone will reduce costs to home buyers from $435 to $998 per home. Section M1601.4.1 eliminates the need for sealing longitudinal seams of snap-lock and button-lock types of HVAC joints and seams located inside conditioned space. According to research conducted by Home Innovation Labs, the cost savings to homebuyers ranges from $129 per home (one-story) to $471 per home (two-story with basement).

A new unvented attic option, using air-permeable insulation, has been added to the energy conservation provisions in Chapter 11. This new option, if used, will save home buyers between $1,583 per home to $9,185 per home.

For those home builders using the Energy Rating Index compliance option, the required Energy Rating Index (ERI) points were revised to be more compatible with the prescriptive compliance path. The rating index points were adjusted between 5-8 points, dependent upon the climate zone the home is built in.

In addition, though it was not passed until 2018, the Federal Cost Share Reform Incentive was a long-term goal of the Code Council and was the result of many hours of tireless effort from ICC staff, members, and partners. A part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the provision encourages states to adopt the latest building codes and invest in pre-disaster mitigation activities. It will help reduce the burden of growing financial losses on the federal government and the states due to the increased frequency of natural disasters.

GHB: Have the International Codes changed since the ICC was created in 1994? If so, how?

SY: The I-Codes are on a continuous update cycle so as to incorporate the latest methods and technologies in the market today. A diverse set of stakeholders including homebuilders, architects, engineers, and manufacturers participates in this process.

As an example, Table 403.1 of the 2018 International Plumbing Code (IPC) was revised to include requirements for gaming areas within casinos and now references the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code to determine the number and type of plumbing fixtures for outdoor public swimming pools. In addition, single- user toilet facilities (a room having a single water closet and a single lavatory) can now be used by either sex and do not have to be labeled for use by only males or females (separated use designations).

GHB: What are some ways that the ICC works with homebuilders to ensure that homes are high-performing?

SY: ICC is a co-development partner with the National Association of Home Builders and currently in the process of updating the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. One of the more significant proposed updates will be to include water efficiency ratings as part of the overall building performance criteria. Building designers will be encouraged to implement water efficient designs to conserve our depleting water resources.

GHB: As we move into a greener future, how do you see codes changing with the times as more, new, green innovations and technologies are adopted in the building process?

SY: People care about the environment. In recent years, the focus has shifted from “How does the environment affect my home or building?” to “How does my home or building affect the environment?” Our codes change based on the inputs from our stakeholders. The Code Council relies on federal agencies and private sector companies to bring their research about the latest resiliency innovations to the floor through the code development process.

GHB: What does the ICC have in the works for 2018 and beyond?

SY: In 2018 we are celebrating our 38th annual Building Safety Month, an international campaign held during the month of May that raises awareness about building safety, the importance of current safety codes, and the role of code officials in creating safe, sustainable structures that communities can rely on for generations to come. The code development process for the 2021 I-Codes is also underway. The next major step in the process is the Committee Action Hearings in Columbus, Ohio, on April 15-23. Registration is free and all interested parties are encouraged to participate.