Home Commentary Vermont’s Residential Building Energy Code Missing Authority

Vermont’s Residential Building Energy Code Missing Authority

interview view of new construction framing and insulation with new windows.
by Sandra Vitzthum

Vermont has had an energy code for residential construction for over 20 years. We are currently the only state that does not have an administrative system in place — a government entity in charge of training, project review, inspections, certification, appeals, variances, conflict resolution, enforcement, and performance monitoring. In building codes, this government entity is called “the authority having jurisdiction.”

Most states realize that the energy code is a building code and have both established that authority and also married their energy codes with other building regulations. This protects property owners and helps smooth the construction process.

Vermont architects and homebuilders have joined to ask that the new updates to Vermont’s residential energy codes be postponed until this fundamental problem is fixed. We very much want to increase performance targets, but the risk of damage — both to occupants’ health and financial investment — without administration is too high.

Consider the metaphor of a life-or-death race towards climate stability. It is collaborative; no one wins until everyone has crossed the line. There are 50 runners on the American team. Some are running to the finish line, some are walking. Only Vermont has its legs bound. We cannot do much at all without administrative authority. We need to solve this problem before we can get moving.

There are several governance models. The legislature has established a study committee to determine what is the best model for Vermont and how to get it running. A collaborative group has applied for $4 million in federal aid (through the Department of Energy) to help make this possible. 

We hope the Legislature Committee on Administrative Rules agrees this must happen immediately, before the energy codes become more restrictive. If you can, please tell your legislators how important this is before the next committee hearing June 8. 

Once Vermont’s legs are freed, we can sprint to net-zero buildings!

Sandra Vitzthum has specialized in sustainable design for 30 years. Her architecture practice is based in Montpelier.