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5 Key Strategies from The White House Initiative to Advance Building Codes

The Administration Proposes Measures to Make America’s Built Environments More Resilient

As the Atlantic hurricane season began, the White House announced the launch of an initiative to make built environments across the nation greener and more resilient. The National Initiative to Advance Building Codes has introduced an ambitious program to upgrade construction standards, reduce energy waste, and minimize the impacts of climate change. As meteorologists predict high hurricane activity for the current storm season, the initiative couldn’t have come at a better time.

According to the administration, stronger building codes will help reduce carbon emissions while also saving consumers money on utility bills. The new building codes initiative will provide a variety of incentives for local, tribal, and state governments to adopt new standards. The Biden administration has also committed to requiring every large federal construction or modernization project to have net-zero emissions.

The White House plans to use $225 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to encourage local and state governments to adhere to modernized energy codes. The administration’s initiative also emphasizes upgrading built environments to be prepared for climate hazards, mandating FEMA to implement an updated Building Codes Strategy and Building Code Adoption Tracking.

The interagency effort will be led by FEMA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among other federal agencies.

Five Key Points of the White House’s New Building Codes Initiative

As part of the new initiative’s implementation, a group of federal agencies will collaborate to:

  1. Review federally supported building construction to ensure projects:
    • follow “modern building codes and standards to the greatest extent feasible;”
    • create good-quality jobs; and
    • expand affordable housing supply

    Agencies are required to report to the National Climate Task Force on the review’s progress.

  2. Promote resilient building standards in the construction of new buildings supported by Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds.
  3. Use mapping tools to track building code adoption “based on energy efficiency and local hazards such as flood, earthquake, tornado, and hurricane risk.”
  4. “Lead by example across the federal building portfolio by seizing opportunities to advance “above-code” resilience and energy efficiency standards in new projects.”All large federal construction and modernization projects starting in the fiscal year 2022, totaling over 25,000 sq. feet, will have net-zero emissions.
  5. Implement Federal Building Performance Standards to help achieve net-zero emissions across all federal buildings by 2045.

American Infrastructure’s Shocking Climate Resiliency Ratings

Last March, the Federal Emergency Management Agency rated the climate resiliency level of each state’s building codes. After reviewing codes across the nation, analysts concluded that only one-quarter of communities have building codes that offer adequate resilience. In fact, a staggering 39 states had the lowest hazard-resistance rating, and 19 states scored zero out of 100 points.

In this scenario, countless communities are tremendously vulnerable. Over the last four decades, damages from natural disasters have cost over $2 trillion, and outdated building codes result in federal funding often going to non-resilient building projects.

Energy-efficient and resilient built environments can save billions of taxpayer dollars. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, consumers’ adherence to modernized energy codes can result in utility bill savings amounting to $162 per year.

What to Expect from the Building Codes Initiative

The White House initiative addresses urgent needs in U.S. infrastructure, but it is not without its challenges. Often, the implementation of these types of initiatives falls short of the proponent’s original goals.

Our nation needs to raise the standards for every single building project across America. Statistics show that adopting hazard-resistant building codes can save communities $11 per every dollar invested. Proper insulation, efficient HVAC systems, green wastewater systems, solar panels, and other built environment features can make buildings more resilient without overburdening taxpayers. If the White House initiative succeeds and building codes are modernized, especially in critical low-income areas, American infrastructure and the American people will greatly benefit.