In early June, the Biden administration announced a National Initiative to Advance Building Codes to encourage state and local governments to enforce modern building codes when constructing new homes and buildings.
Building codes are minimum standards for the construction of buildings. While groups like the International Code Council and National Fire Protection Association develop building codes, it’s up to states and towns to enforce them as part of their own regulations.
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The Biden administration wants these jurisdictions to adopt the latest codes to lower energy costs for families while making homes and buildings more resilient against property damage caused by severe weather such as hurricanes.
The Department of Energy, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will work together to:
Ensure federally supported housing and other building projects follow modern building codes and standards.
Provide incentives and support for communities to ensure buildings meet the latest codes and standards.
Although adopting current building codes that focus on resilience and durability against weather events may initially mean higher costs for consumers, this federal program is focused on new construction, and doesn’t require existing homeowners to make any changes to their homes to comply with modern building codes.
“Typically there are costs when there is a new code,” says Wendell Porter, a senior lecturer at the University of Florida who specializes in sustainable construction practices. While new construction will likely cost more to build, the cost to live in and maintain a new building will be reduced because of these codes, he says. “You only build a house once but you pay utilities every month,” he says.
This initiative is good for consumers, says Erin Moore, an architecture and environmental studies professor at the University of Oregon. “No one wants a gas-guzzling house,” she says. “Consumers should have access to housing that is energy-efficient and affordable.”
Here are three ways this federal program could benefit consumers.
Lower home insurance costs
Hurricanes caused an estimated $145 billion in damages in the United States in 2021, making it the third most costly year on record, after 2017 and 2005.  The initiative is focused on encouraging new buildings to use codes and standards that result in buildings that are more resilient to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and other extreme weather events. If homes are being built with roofs that can withstand hurricane winds and with construction materials that are resistant to flood damage, they could be less costly to insure, Porter says.
If your community updates its codes, you may want to add ordinance or law coverage to your home insurance policy. This helps cover the cost of getting your house up to code after a covered loss if there's an increased cost of complying with the new rules.
Improved consumer safety
The increased severity and frequency of weather events makes it critical that consumers have access to safe housing, Moore says. This program will provide fair access to safe housing that protects consumers’ investments and also prevents bodily injuries caused by building failure during a weather event or other hazard, she says.
Increased energy efficiency
Because much of the U.S. housing stock was built when fossil fuels were abundant and cheap, most houses are energy inefficient and depend on large amounts of gas and electricity, Moore says. These building codes would lead to houses being designed to be comfortable without having to use enormous amounts of energy for heating and cooling. “Some basic improvements in building codes will make a big difference,” she says.
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