A wary construction industry is watching closely as legislators consider automatically updating state building codes to match those set by the federal government.
“The fear is what we would have to adopt,” said Brad Boycks, director of government and political affairs for the Wisconsin Builders Association. “We have a good system of using national codes as a guide, but, right now, we have considerations built in for costs and Wisconsin-specific issues.”
That could be lost, Boycks said, if the state adopts a bill based on recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming. The task force recommended the state automatically adopt the latest International Energy Conservation Code, which is a federal green building code that maximizes energy efficiency and cost effectiveness in residential and commercial buildings.
If the task force’s bill ties the federal code to Wisconsin’s code but does not allow time to analyze costs or whether a requirement works in Wisconsin, Boycks said, builders have no way of knowing what it will do to their bottom lines.
“What works for something for a house in Florida might not for a house in northern Wisconsin,” he said. “What we do right now is look at the new energy code and see what we can use in this state.”
The task force recommended an 18-month window before an IECC change is adopted in Wisconsin.
But Boycks said he’s not sure that window will make it into the bill, which likely will be introduced early next year.
“We’ve heard rumors that the window might be changed or it might not be there at all,” he said.
None of the bill’s four authors — state Rep. Jim Soletski, D-Green Bay; state Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison; state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona; and state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee — was available to comment before deadline Tuesday.
Tia Nelson, co-chairwoman of the task force, said she is confident the bill will be a close match to the recommendations. But she said she does not know if the 18-month window will be in the bill.
With or without that window, Boycks said, the issue is not something that should be part of an omnibus bill dealing with new fuel standards and such electricity generation issues as nuclear power plants and wind farms.
State law requires the Wisconsin Department of Commerce hold public hearings and gain legislative approval for any changes to state building codes. Although timelines for changes can be difficult to gauge, Commerce spokesman Tony Hozeny said, 18 months would be a reasonable window.
If the 18-month window is in the bill, Jim Boullion, government affairs director for the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, said it would be workable.
“But we have a good building code review process in place right now,” he said. “We need that process to give the industry a fair say on how it could affect Wisconsin.”
Mike Vilstrup, president of Cross Plains-based TimberLane Builders LLC, called the state’s code revision process arduous, but fair. Automatic updates, he said, would hurt the industry.
“It’s hard enough sometimes to keep up with what the state does,” he said. “I don’t think the global warming task force should be getting involved.”
More than 20 Wisconsin industry groups last week sent task force members a letter expressing concerns that issues such as automatic building code updates are wrapped up in an omnibus bill when they should be discussed separately.
Nelson said she was shocked by the letter. The plan all along, she said, was to put all of the recommendations into one bill.
“The reason we were so successful in putting this together is that we balanced a variety of opinions, and everyone had to accept certain compromises,” she said.
“The reason this works is because it’s one unified package.”