Ever since the first Model Energy Code was published in 1977, shortly after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was created in response to the energy crisis brought on by the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, DOE has pursued a strategy of stepwise advances in the model code. DOE makes the code a little tougher every time a new version is published (which happens every three years), evaluating in each cycle whether advancing technology has made  stricter methods more practical, and whether energy savings can justify the added cost of compliance with the updated code.

But just as with other building codes — structural, electrical, plumbing, et cetera —  it’s up to local authorities to adopt the updated model code, or not. That process, and the political battles that accompany it, happens place by place and cycle by cycle.

This month, it’s Saint Louis County’s turn, as the Missouri county’s building code authorities consider whether to adopt the latest model code — and if so, whether to amend it first to reflect local needs or the local policy agenda. The Saint Louis Post Dispatch is covering the story (see: “Energy savings at stake in St. Louis County building code fight,” by Jacob Barker).

“About every six years, St. Louis County begins a long, complicated — some would say boring — process of updating its construction codes,” the paper reports. “This time, environmental groups say the process is something residents should carefully watch, because proposals to weaken energy efficiency codes for new homes are moving forward.”

In fact, of course, proposals to weaken the existing code aren’t on the table. But the idea of adopting a newer (and tougher) edition of the International Energy Efficiency Code (IEEC) — today’s version of the old Model Energy Code — is facing some opposition from the local Homebuilders Association. “In an email, Pat Sullivan, head of the local HBA, said even relatively small increases in median new home costs can price out thousands of people, forcing them to live in older, less energy-efficient homes,” the Post Dispatch reports.

Instead, Sullivan argues, the market should decide how homes should be built. “A buyer/resident has every right to dramatically exceed what the Sierra Club is advocating in the way of energy efficiency,” Sullivan wrote to the Post Dispatch. “And every builder I know would be happy to build what that buyer/resident is willing to pay for.”

That argument is falling on sympathetic ears, the Post Dispatch reports (see: “Energy code updates need to be incremental, committee chair says,” by Jacob Barker). Reports the paper: “‘As it stands, it’s too big of a change all at once,’ St. Louis County Building Code Review Committee Chairman Arthur Merdinian said after the committee’s meeting Thursday. ‘These changes in the energy code need to be more incremental.’”