Experts Weigh Changes to Minnesota's Building Codes

Housing First Minnesota Pushes for Increased Affordability

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Since mid-January, appointees to the various Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) have been hard at work reviewing potential changes to Minnesota’s building codes. Representatives of Minnesota’s housing industry were appointed to the Code Administration, Energy Code, Residential Building Code and Structural Code TAGs and have been providing input on the various code changes from the perspective of home builders and homebuyers.

“Thanks to the Housing First Minnesota members and staff participating in the TAG meetings, our message of greater affordability for all Minnesotans is resonating,” said David Siegel, executive director of Housing First Minnesota.

New Energy Code? Maybe Not.

Early in the process, Department of Labor & Industry staff presented three options for the new energy code: adopt the 2018 International Energy Conservation code (IECC) unamended, adopt the 2018 IECC with Minnesota-specific changes, or retain the current Minnesota Residential Energy Code.

Builders and building officials, both of whom are now just getting comfortable with the current residential energy code, said they did not want to see the 2018 IECC adopted. Special interest groups advocating for more costly energy codes pushed for the adoption of the 2018 IECC, despite concerns from regulators and the housing industry over the cost versus benefit of the stricter code.

Housing First Minnesota, in a letter to DLI, stated that the new energy code is not needed, and that both builders and code officials do not want a new energy code, having just become comfortable with the existing code. Instead, the organization pledged to work closely with its members, the DLI and building officials to further develop and promote the current performance pathway in the existing code.

Sprinklers Battle Reignited

At a meeting of the Residential Building Code TAG on March 23, the Minnesota Fire Association Coalition (MnFAC) proposed reinstating the sprinkler mandate. Housing First Minnesota’s regulatory affairs manager, Nick Erickson, argued against the proposal, saying that with the inclusion of interconnected smoke detectors and various other code provisions, today’s new homes are the safest in the state’s history.

The Residential Building Code TAG declined to support the sprinkler proposal.

Next Steps

The TAGs completed their work in mid-March. Recommendations for each code topic will be presented to the Minnesota Construction Code Advisory Council later this year. DLI Commissioner Ken Peterson will consult the recommendations of the TAGs and Council before presenting Minnesota’s draft building codes. DLI expects the new building codes to take effect in March 2020.