For the first 27 years that we lived in Beaufort, we evacuated two times, for Hurricanes Hugo, 1989 and Floyd, 1999. Every year since 2015, South Carolina has had a hurricane or tropical storm come ashore, Joaquin, 2015, Matthew, 2016, Irma, 2017, Florence, 2018 and Dorian. According to NOAA and NASA the five hottest years on record are the last five years and the need to reduce carbon emissions has reached a tipping point. The Washington Post reported last Wednesday that dangerous new hot zones are spreading around the world.

In 2005 the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 2030 Challenge set in motion the development of programs, codes improvements and other  actions to reach net zero carbon emissions in new buildings by the year 2030. In the United States buildings consume almost 40% of the energy used. Through the 2030 Challenge carbon emissions have leveled off even though the U.S. continues to add about 3 to 4 billion square feet to its building stock every year. We are making progress but not enough so this month the AIA called for its members to exponentially accelerate the decarbonization of buildings, the building sector, and the built environment.

Frederick + Frederick has reduced the energy used in our recent projects by 61% over the typical house in Beaufort County. This is progress but in addition to more efficient operations we must reduce embodied carbon, too. Embodied carbon includes greenhouse gases generated in the extraction, manufacture, transport and assembly of materials. Savings in embodied carbon are immediate and can be achieved by reducing the use of materials overall – for example, by retrofitting an existing building instead of building new, by minimizing the materials needed to do so, by using low-carbon materials for the remaining needs and installing recycled or locally made materials.

In South Carolina, municipalities and counties are restricted from adopting their own building codes and must enforce the mandatory codes adopted by the state Building Code Council (BCC). The International Energy Conservation code (IECC) currently in use in the state is the 2009 version. Research shows that if the BCC adopted the 2018 IECC energy use per home would be reduced by 25% and homeowners would save over $500 per year on energy bills.

We must not stop with the adoption of the 2018 IECC but insist on one of the most effective measures for widespread carbon reduction; a zero-net-carbon (ZNC) building code. A ZNC is a building energy standard for new building construction that integrates cost-effective energy efficiency standards with on-site and /or off-site carbon free renewable energy sources.

To reduce carbon emissions, we need our government leaders to adopt stricter energy codes but until that is accomplished we each should do our part.