Illinois Energy Code Compliance: A Lost Cause?

Todd Deger

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2023

The International Code Council (ICC) originally adopted the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) in 2000. The 2021 IECC addresses energy efficiency on several fronts including cost, energy usage, use of natural resources, and the impact of energy usage on the environment. As of June 2019, Illinois has adopted a statewide commercial and residential building code based off the 2018 IECC. This Illinois Energy Conservation Code (Illinois Energy Code) was implemented with the belief that buildings built in compliance with these energy performance standards would see annual energy costs reduced by approximately thirty percent.

While the Illinois Energy Code was implemented for the purpose of reducing the impact on the environment while cutting energy consumption costs, not every construction and renovation project will be compliant with the heightened standards. A 2012 study by ADM Associates found that between fifteen and twenty-two percent of reviewed projects were not compliant with the then-current Illinois Energy Code. It also found that some jurisdictions had no review procedures and did not enforce the Illinois Energy Code.

Budgetary limits in small municipalities may be to blame for this phenomenon. Fiscal constraints may challenge a small municipality with even basic building programs and inspections. Regardless of local motivation to comply with the Illinois Energy Code to improve health and safety, a lack of resources, staff, training, or expertise limits the ability to enforce it. On top of enforcement, the actual builders may lack the training to build commercial or residential projects that are Illinois Energy Code compliant.

How is Illinois moving toward Energy Code compliance?

Robert Cole is the Director of Buildings and Inspections for the City of East Peoria and a proponent of the Illinois Energy Code. It is the law in his jurisdiction and he strongly believes in its enforcement wherever it has been adopted. His solution for the seemingly total lack of enforcement is to motivate municipalities and builders to comply by “keeping the positives in front of them.” Compliance with the Illinois Energy Code will result in benefits such as energy cost savings, comfortable and healthier homes and workplaces, more sustainable communities, and transparency and compliance with state law. Simple knowledge of what building energy regulations are, how to conform to them, and why people should do so can drastically change the way these standards are viewed and implemented. Homebuyers who are willing to pay more for energy efficient buildings can motivate designers and builders to learn the Illinois Energy Code and use it properly in new and renovation construction.

The Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) is an applied research program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Its mission is to decrease the energy footprint of the State of Illinois. SEDAC has reported on Robert Cole’s work in East Peoria while proposing its own solutions. SEDAC has created an Energy Code Training Program to provide training and support for professionals working throughout Illinois, focusing their efforts where compliance is low or enforcement is difficult. They offer workshops, webinars, online courses and resources, and technical support for those with questions regarding the Illinois Energy Code.

While the standardization of building codes and regulations is meant to create safer, happier, and healthier environments while cutting energy consumption and costs in the long-term, these benefits can only be realized if the Illinois Energy Code is implemented and enforced. Robert Cole and SEDAC propose a local, grassroots education movement that can work with local leaders to ensure designers, builders, and buyers are actually aware of the law. Education and awareness are steps toward implementation and enforcement, even if local municipalities do not have the budgets to inspect and enforce building codes in the traditional manner.

Education will lead the way

The Building & Fire Code Academy (BFCA) located in Elgin, Illinois is a global training institution dedicated to providing code enforcement education to building and fire inspectors based on the International Codes, Illinois Plumbing Code, National Electric Code, Life Safety Code, and the legal aspects of code administration. The mission of BFCA is to provide comprehensive and practical education in the administration, application, and enforcement of building and fire codes. The BFCA was founded in 2000 by Richard A. Piccolo who, after years as a certified instructor conducting training seminars nationwide, recognized a need to provide training and continuing education for professionals in code-related careers. Now, the BFCA provides both online and in-person training with plans to create a series of “On Demand” virtual training courses that can be taken at any time. To deliver the highest quality of training, all BFCA instructors are approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) as highly qualified experts in the fields in which they teach.

Additionally, the International Code Council (ICC) itself provides training opportunities. The ICC offers a variety of training options for every individual to earn continuing education credits that can be used toward Code Council certification renewal. ICC training providers include the ICC Learning Center, S.K. Ghosh Associates, the International Accreditation Service, and the Code-Council selected Preferred Provider Program. While ICC headquarters are located in Washington DC, the Central Regional Office is found in Country Club Hills, IL and S.K. Ghosh Associates’ office is found in Palatine, IL.

Unfortunately, the locations of these training sites are focused heavily in northeast Illinois. This has the unintended effect of leaving builders and inspectors from central and southern Illinois with the choice of traveling to Chicago for a week or simply going without the education. That choice also assumes that builders and inspectors are even aware of the updated building codes and the need to enforce them.

Energy Code compliance is an uphill battle against budget constraints, political tides, and plain ignorance. It will take time and effort to make meaningful change, but as Robert Cole and SEDAC believe, this change moves the state of Illinois and the nation towards a better future.