Step 6. Identify and Overcome the Barriers of Adoption


It is important for a state or jurisdiction to identify and overcome a variety of political, economic, and technical challenges when adopting or updating an energy code. Confusion throughout the process and unclear adoption language are two of the most common barriers associated with code adoption. Other barriers identified by advocates and stakeholders include initial cost, limited outreach and education resources, cost and availability of code support information, and state and local confusion. These barriers are often resolved by amending the adoption process, providing code education, or selecting a model energy code for adoption.

Adoption Process

The adoption process itself can be a barrier to code adoption. States without a code update process or with an irregular code update process often experience the most difficulty when adopting an energy code; adoption can be hindered when a state or jurisdiction has to restart the adoption process for a new code during each code cycle. As such, it is beneficial to enforce an adoption process that is both clear and consistent and utilizes automatic adoption or a standardized adoption procedure. North Carolina recognized that automatic adoption enabled the state to focus more resources on code education, compliance, and enforcement (Resource 1 in this step). To eliminate the adoption process as a barrier to code adoption, it is important for a state or jurisdiction to establish a routine code review and update process.

Adoption Language

Language is among the greatest barriers to code adoption. Accordingly, the language used in the pending code should be selected carefully. The inclusion of confusing or contradicting requirements will greatly impede the adoption process; instead, code requirements should be written in easy to understand, enforceable language. States often overcome this barrier by adopting model energy codes without amendments.

Initial Cost

A common barrier to adopting or upgrading an energy code is the misconception that the building practices outlined in the code require an initial cost that is not easily offset by energy savings. It is true that there may be an initial cost for building to the energy code or renovating an existing building to meet code requirements. However, the cost is paid back through lower utility bills, and the long-term savings make energy-efficient residential and commercial buildings more affordable than those not constructed to code.

In an effort to help states overcome this barrier, both BECP and BCAP have analyzed the incremental construction costs of upgrading to more recent editions of model energy codes. Impacts of the 2009 IECC for Residential Buildings at State Level (Resource 2 in this step), a document produced by BECP, compares the requirements of the 2009 IECC with the residential code in most states as of June 2009. The document includes estimated yearly savings and the percentage of savings achieved by adoption of the 2009 IECC. These savings can be used to estimate the number of years it will take to pay back initial costs.

Similarly, BCAP has quantified the incremental construction cost of upgrading to both the 2009 and 2012 IECC (Resources 3 and 4 in this step). BCAP has found that moving from current practice to the 2009 IECC for new homes would result in a weighted average incremental cost of $840.77 per new home. The annual energy savings per home would be $243.37 on average, meaning the simple payback for homeowners would occur in 3.45 years. When amortized over a 30-year, 20% down payment loan, the additional upfront cost on a mortgage would be significantly lower. In fact, when factoring in energy savings, the homeowner would realize net savings within the first year.9

Moving from current practice to the 2012 IECC for new homes would result in a weighted average incremental cost of $1,494–$2,201 per new home in the areas in for which an analysis has been completed (subject to change). The annual energy savings per home would be $296–$392 on average. When amortized over a 30-year, 20% down payment loan, and including energy savings, the homeowner would realize net savings within 1 to 2 years, on average.10

State-specific incremental cost analyses are available as well. Presented as two-page fact sheets, these handouts estimate the break-even point, return on investment and energy savings for each of the states. Visit the "2009 and 2012 Incremental Cost Analysis" webpages (Resources 3 and 4 in this step) for information specific to your state.

To overcome the first-cost barrier, it is important for code advocates and those involved with code adoption to work closely with the build community. Builders do not directly benefit from lower utility bills and are therefore less inclined to increase first cost by implementing energy-efficient designs. Providing the build community with information they can pass on to the buyer regarding quantified savings will assist in overcoming this barrier.

Limited Outreach and Education Resources

Limited knowledge and awareness of code requirements and energy goals can be a challenge when adopting an energy code. To overcome this barrier, it is important to plan for and implement outreach and education resources for each entity involved with code adoption. This can include building new partnerships, hosting workshops and other education courses for professionals, creating video and online training, and offering assistance and guidance throughout each phase of the adoption process. Tailoring training to each specific audience will help foster an understanding of the expectations of the code prior to code adoption and after the code is in place. Advocacy groups can become involved in the education by providing briefings on technical issues.

Furthermore, it is important to educate the general public through a proactive public relations campaign. Adoption advocates should create public service announcements and promotional material to increase public awareness of the value and benefit of code changes. According to The "New Hampshire Experience" (Resource 5 in this step), a successful public awareness campaign highlights energy code benefits, presents information in a memorable and edgy way, and unifies stakeholders through easily understandable and targeted outreach messages.

Public understanding and awareness of green building code adoption is imperative. If the public and those directly impacted by the code are not educated in the issues and benefits, the negative connotations of another regulation may preclude code adoption.11

Cost and Availability of Code Support Material

It is crucial for states and jurisdictions to provide all entities involved in code adoption, compliance, and enforcement with the appropriate code support materials. This can include access to a copy of the written code, producing compliance and enforcement guidelines, or creating tools that can be utilized to determine compliance. This can also include analysis and advocacy documents, which should be produced quickly and efficiently to encourage adoption.

The cost of developing and distributing such materials is often viewed as another barrier. However, it is easily overcome when a state or jurisdiction chooses to adopt the most recent version of a model energy code without amendments. States that adopt these codes have full access to all of the resources available through BECP including code notes and compliance software such as REScheck™ and COMcheck™. These resources are available to states at no cost.

State and Local Adoption Confusion

In general, it is easier to manage the adoption process and the adopted code when it is done at the state level. When possible, codes should be adopted and made mandatory statewide. Statewide adoption ensures that there is a level of uniformity among architects, builders, contractors, and code officials throughout the state. At the municipal/county level, confusion about whether an energy code is voluntary or mandatory can be a barrier to adoption. To alleviate confusion, require local adoption and enforcement. Allow jurisdictions to set mandatory limits beyond the state energy code.


Recommendations for overcoming each of the barriers listed above are included within the respective write-up for each barrier.

A number of states or state organizations have undergone comprehensive studies on the barriers to the code adoption process for a particular state. See Resources 4-8 for more information on state-specific barriers.


  1. NC Code Adoption Process: Recommendations for Possible Improvements
  2. Impacts of the 2009 IECC for Residential Buildings at State Level
  3. Incremental Cost Analysis
  4. 2009 IECC Incremental Cost Analysis
  5. The New Hampshire Experience
  6. Notes on Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance Regional Building Energy Codes Conference
  7. Building Energy Codes Working Group Blueprint
  8. Building Energy Codes—Getting to the Savings
  9. To Amend or Not to Amend National Model Energy Codes and Standards
  10. New Hampshire Gap Analysis