Building Energy Codes (S.253) - Overview

S.253 recognizes that home and business heating and cooling is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont and aims to reduce these emissions by increasing the energy efficiency of buildings. Currently, there is no designated state agency or office responsible for interpreting, administering, and enforcing the building energy codes. To address this, a Building Energy Code Working Group will be created to recommend strategies for increasing compliance with the energy standards and develop plans for a potential transition to a comprehensive program. The Working Group will submit annual reports with findings and recommendations for legislative action.


The Details:

The Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES) and Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES) are mandatory in current statute, but there is no State agency or office designated to interpret, administer, and enforce them. The codes are scheduled to become more stringent with the goal of "net-zero ready" by 2030.

The Building Energy Code Working Group is created by the bill to recommend strategies for increasing compliance with the RBES and CBES. The Working Group's members include the Commissioner of Public Service, the Director of Fire Safety, Efficiency Vermont, and the American Institute of Architects.

The Department of Public Service shall call the first meeting of the Working Group and shall provide administrative, technical, and legal assistance. The Working Group shall submit a written report to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and the House Committee on Environment and Energy.

The Commissioner of Public Service shall amend and update the CBES by means of administrative rules at least every three years and may direct the timely and appropriate revision of the CBES after the issuance of updated standards for commercial construction.

The Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) shall update the website for the residential building contractor registry administered by the Vermont Secretary of State to regularize usage of the term "residential contractor" across the website, publish a registrant's designations in the registrant's listing on the website, and implement a search feature.

OPR would also be required update any contract template it provides residential contractors to indicate they are required to comply with the State’s building energy standards.

The Good:

  • Potential enforcement of existing standards for residential construction.
  • Creation of better conflict-resolution with contractors not meeting standards.
  • Reduction in cost of heating/cooling new construction (exact savings unknown).

The Bad:

  • Increases the cost of new construction
  • No protections for affordability
  • Does not address existing construction not meeting current codes (potentially a larger opportunity).


Industry groups support the bill because it doesn't create any laws or standards that a builder would have to follow, so anyone can build their own home. The bill does, however, provide resources to the industry from the state.

The state Office of Professional Regulation regulates 51 professions, including pharmacists, nurses, mixed martial artists, and residential contractors. It has a core mission of public protection and can pull people from the field if they engage in unprofessional conduct. Title 26 requires that before Vermont regulates a profession, it must identify a public harm. If a public harm is identified, the form of regulation chosen has to be the minimum necessary to protect against that harm.

The Department of Public Service is responsible for updating the building energy codes but is not tasked with administering or enforcing them. The Division of Fire Safety is responsible for enforcing some building codes but doesn't have the capacity to enforce energy codes. The Division of Fire Safety and the Public Utility Commission and both said that they didn't feel they had the capacity to enforce the programs.

The Department of Public Service does studies every three or three or four years that show that compliance with the Residential Building Energy Standards is about 54%, but on the commercial side it has always been significantly better.

There is no place for people to complain through official channels about problematic contractors except for the Consumer Protection Group at the Attorney General’s office. Vermont is the only state in the nation without a path to authority over residential construction, which creates problems of many kinds. The study group will continue to study and make recommendations on whether there should be a set of rules for single family home construction.

We have an energy code that is making us as a leader in the country, but it is not enforced. New housing built to the RBES code is a very energy efficient home compared to adjoining states. However, we would be better off spending every additional dollar fixing or improving an existing home rather than ratcheting new homes to an even more stringent standard.


Current Status:

The bill is currently on the House action calendar and is expected to be taken up on Tuesday 5/6.


CFV coverage on S.253

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Last updated: 5/5/2024

DISCLAIMER: Generative AI used to assist in the production of this report.

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