Housing Affordability Wins in Building Code Recommendations

Housing First Minnesota Leads Industry to First-Round Victory

Initial review of the Energy Code Technical Advisory Group (TAG) report is good news for Minnesota’s housing industry, as the report did not include adoption of a new, costlier Residential Energy Code.

The Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) released the reports of its TAGs on May 15. The report, which recaps the technical review of model code changes from nearly 50 TAG meetings, gives builders the first glance at possible changes to the state’s building codes.

Report Contents
The report for State Building Code outlines the recommended model codes to be adopted, as well as proposed Minnesota-specific amendments.

Code Administration: No changes affecting residential construction were included in the administration area.

Energy Code: The report highlights the disagreement on the need to adopt a new Residential Energy Code, noting it was the only model code the TAGs did not recommend adopting.

Residential Building Code: The Residential Building Code TAG recommended the 2018 IRC be adopted, with six amendments. These amendments include:

• Language for tiny homes (400 sq ft or less).

  • Clarification and changes to the 5,000 psi concrete requirement.

• Elimination of the prescriptive requirements for cantilevered foundation walls up to seven feet tall and retaining up to seven feet of unbalanced fill.

• Exempting homes undergoing alteration and repair from the requirement to install interconnected battery-powered smoke alarms, interconnected hard-wired smoke alarms or
hard-wired smoke alarms unless the interior walls or ceilings are removed.

• Exempting new sleeping rooms added to existing basements that are undergoing alterations or repairs from emergency escape and rescue opening requirements where the basement and first floor are equipped with automatic fire sprinklers.

• A definition for “transient use” to clarify that single- and two-family dwellings and townhouses constructed for transient use are required to have a state license.

Housing Industry Pleased
After a $7,000 per home increase from the current energy code and a costly sprinkler mandate that was ultimately thrown out in the BATC v. DLI court ruling, home builders dealing with rising lumber prices and the labor crisis were worried about other significant cost increases.

“The early successes of the process so far illustrate the importance of having the housing industry active in matters affecting affordability,” said Nick Erickson, regulatory affairs manager for Housing First Minnesota.

Early in the Energy Code TAG process, DLI indicated it was not sure if a new energy code for residential construction would be adopted. Advocates for a costlier energy code had a major presence at meetings of the Energy Code TAG, including insulation manufacturers attempting to mandate continuous foam insulation on home exteriors.

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 adapted to 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.

During the final meeting of the Residential Building Code TAG, the Minnesota Fire Association Coalition (MnFAC) proposed reinstating the sprinkler mandate. 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 Construction Codes Advisory Council (CCAC) will discuss the reports at its June 21 meeting. 

Following the CCAC discussion and review of the TAG reports, CCAC will forward the reports and any feedback to its list of affected stakeholders. Informational hearings will be held before the first official review and comment period on the state’s new building code begins. CCAC will then present the final recommended new building codes to the DLI Commissioner before the final public comment period begins.

The new building codes are scheduled to go into effect in March 2020.

Want to learn more about the potential changes to Minnesota’s building codes?
Visit HousingFirstMN.org/buildingcode-changes.