By Debra Phillips, NEMA President and CEO, and Dominic Sims, ICC CEO
May marked both National Electrical Safety and Building Safety month — a convergence of two separate commemorations aimed at raising the awareness of safety in homes, schools, and the workplace. At a fundamental level, building codes and the electrical technology they help deploy are designed with safety at the forefront. However, they do much more than that. Today’s codes and electrical equipment are designed to enable a more sustainable, resilient future.
Building Codes and Electrical Technology Working Together
In the United States, the National Electric Code (NEC) sets the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards. And the International Codes, or I-Codes, are a family of model codes developed through a process facilitated by the International Code Council with the explicit goal of ensuring safe, sustainable, and affordable structures.
Electrical manufacturers work hand in glove with code developers to set standards and support the manufacture of innovative technologies that promote a holistic and comprehensive approach to building and electrical safety to protect the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants.
These modern codes and electrical technologies protect millions of households from increasingly frequent and intense disasters. One study by the National Institute of Building Science found that adopting the latest building code requirements saves $11 for every $1 invested and adopting above-code design could save $4 per each $1 spent.
Model codes are updated regularly to capture lessons learned from prior disaster events, new building and climate science research and new technologies and practices. This often includes technologies for a cleaner, greener world. The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) recognize the role of clean technologies like rooftop solar and battery storage, and how to ensure their safe deployment while lowering the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings.
Adopting updated building codes does four things:
- Keeps people and property safe
- Makes buildings more energy efficient
- Lowers building operating costs
- Helps address threats from our changing climate
Federal Funding Will Accelerate Sustainability and Resiliency Efforts
Recent legislation is helping the United States build safer buildings and achieve sustainability goals through strategies including electrification. In 2021, President Biden signed into law the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which made a historic investment in energy and electrification projects by providing hundreds of millions of dollars to transform U.S. infrastructure. The Act aims to create an accessible and electrified transportation system, modernize buildings and lighting, establish a more resilient grid, and support a more efficient and expanded domestic manufacturing sector.
Additionally, the Act encourages energy conservation and electric grid stability through the development, adoption, and effective implementation of building energy codes, making $225 million in competitive grants available through the Department of Energy to implement building energy codes. The new law further aligns the United States with the International Code Council’s “Code on a Mission” challenge, which aims to have over a third of the U.S. population covered by the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) by the end of 2023.
The adoption of more resilient building codes will ensure safer homes and commercial buildings nationwide and help to close the safety equity gap for vulnerable communities and at-risk populations.
Building codes and standards are developed through robust consensus-based processes managed by private sector organizations like the Code Council. The continued development of codes that capture expertise from across the building industry including manufacturers, requires continued support for these processes. The federal Pro Codes Act (H.R. 6769) aims to support the organizations that research, develop, and fine-tune the codes that keep us safe and keep us prepared for tomorrow. As the National Fire Protection Association wrote: “…we have developed standards through a voluntary, consensus-based process at no cost to taxpayers. It has and continues to be one of the most successful public-private partnerships in American history.” The Pro Codes Act would preserve this partnership.
As we recognize National Electrical Safety Month and Building Safety Month, we must work to both retrofit and build new buildings that prepare and protect people from harm. Adopting modern building codes, educating construction professionals and the public on their importance, and supporting the building departments that enforce the codes, will help us future-proof our world.