How Codes Get Made with Gayathri Vijayakumar

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Curious about how building performance standards are decided upon?

The IECC, or “model code”, establishes the minimum requirements for building energy efficiency by specifying the performance levels for the building envelope, mechanical systems, lighting systems, and service water heating systems in homes and commercial businesses. This model code is updated every three years, and within those three years there is a LOT of behind-the-scenes work going on to determine the changes for the next version. In this episode, we learn all about the long and lengthy code development process from SWA’s own Gayathri Vijayakumar.

Episode Guest: Gayathri Vijayakumar, Director, Residential Energy Services, Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

Gayathri Headshot

For 15 years, Gayathri Vijayakumar has specialized in evaluating residential and multifamily buildings with an emphasis on high-performance construction and renewable energy systems. Gayathri is a Director for Residential Energy Services at SWA, supporting team members on their energy efficiency, research, and product development projects. She also provides consulting to federal, state, and local agencies, codes, and programs to develop emerging standards and procedures that involve energy efficiency requirements.

Gayathri currently is a member of the ASHRAE 62.2 Multifamily Working Group, Chair of RESNET’s Standards Development Committee, SDC300, and a voting member of ASHRAE’s Residential Buildings Committee.

Episode Information & Resources

*Scroll down for episode transcript!

International Code Council (ICC) Code Development Process website

The Making of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) – written by Gayathri Vijayakumar

Testimony Videos from the Committee Action Hearing (April 2019, Albuquerque, NM):

  • RE88 Video (Proposed change to R402.4 for air leakage testing under residential code)

Testimony Videos from the Public Comment Hearing (October 2019, Las Vegas):

  • CE44 Video (Proposed change to commercial provisions to allow MF to use the R406 ERI Path)
  • CE96 Video (Proposed change to C402. 5 for air leakage testing for MF under commercial code)
  • CE97 Video (Proposed change to C402.5 for air leakage testing for non-MF under commercial code)

*While not mentioned during the podcast, Gayathri wanted to acknowledge Robby Schwarz, Reid Hart, Mike Moore, New Buildings Institute, the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, the National Multifamily Housing Council, Ryan Meres, members from NY Department of State, and Joe Lstiburek, for their support and collaboration on many of the above proposals and at the hearings.

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Don’t miss sessions from Dylan Martello, Lauren Hildebrand, and others from SWA at this year’s conference! Visit SWA’s events page for more session details.


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About Buildings and Beyond

Buildings and Beyond is a production of Steven Winter Associates. We provide energy, green building, and accessibility consulting services to improve the built environment. For more information, visit www.swinter.com.

Hosts

Robb Aldrich | Kelly Westby

Production Team

Heather Breslin | Alex Mirabile | Dylan Martello | Jayd Alvarez

Episode Transcript

Kelly (00:06):

Welcome to buildings and beyond

Robb (00:09):

The podcast that explores how we can create a more sustainable built environment.

Kelly (00:13):

by focusing on efficiency, accessibility and health.

Robb (00:18):

I’m Robb Aldrich.

Kelly (00:19):

and I’m Kelly Westby.

Robb (00:21):

In this episode I spoke with Gayathri, Vijayakumar, who is an engineer here at Steven winter associates. For a few years She’s been involved in the code amendment process specifically with the IECC, the international energy conservation code, like all of the IECC codes. That’s international code council. These are updated every three years and she got involved with working on several amendments to the code to improve energy efficiency. This is this conversation is really about the process of how codes are amended, not the substance of the codes or the substance of the amendments, not the amendments themselves. We’ll link to that information for sure, but this is really about the process and this is not my area of expertise as you can clearly tell if you listen to this episode. But Gayathri does a great job of breaking down the process, answering my many questions and clarifying when I’m confused, which was fairly often, I really learned a lot. So let’s chat with Gayathri.

Dylan (01:30):

Hey guys, this is Dylan Martello from the past passive house team at Steven winter associates. Before we dive into the episode, I wanted to let you know that the 2020 North American passive house network conference will now be hosted virtually on June 11th and 12th. This year I will be talking about how passive house can help buildings comply with the increasing carbon mandates enacted by cities across the US. Be sure to tune in online to see my session and others by registering at naphanconference.com that’s N a P H N conference.com. Enjoy the show.

Gayathri (02:06):

So they call the IECC the model code. And so generally all the work that goes into the model code, so it’s been the 2009, the 2012, the 2015, 2018 IECC. Right. So every three years when they go through those cycles it’s, it’s set up to be the model code that local jurisdictions like States can adopt and become the state energy code. And so if we talk about the 2018 IECC, usually States don’t adopt it that same year. They’re not adopting it in 2018. Right? It just gets published in 2018 so they’re usually a few years behind. And so what’s strange about the code cycle is that before your state has even adopted it, before most users are using it for their buildings, you already have to know that you want to change it. You have to know what about it you don’t like. And so usually it ends up being the people in the game that either in the building industry or in energy advocacy groups, they’re the ones that know what they don’t like about the current code. And they already know what they want to change about it three years from now. And so I got involved in the code cycle back in 2016 and so a colleague of ours,

Robb (03:16):

And so we’re talking right now in March of 2020 to put things in reference for people

Gayathri (03:21):

Exactly. So four years ago, and again, similar to you, I was not interested in code development is not my background. I’m a mechanical engineer. I came to Steven winter associates 15 years ago. Never envisioned that code development is where I wanted to go. A coworker of ours, Sean Maxwell, had been involved in the New York state adoption of the 2015 IECC, so like we were discussing, every state wants to adopt the model code, but it’s a model code. So they’re going to amend it to suit whatever needs they have. And so when New York state was looking at the 2015 IECC, there were things they didn’t like about it. And so they’d reached out to Steven winter associates and specifically about air leakage testing. Sean Maxwell had some ideas for certain changes to the air leakage test standards. And so he worked with them, provided some language. And so what most most States will do is they’ll amend a certain part or multiple parts of the model code. And so that becomes our own state version. And so he was working with them and then he had the bright idea instead of just limiting this amazing change he’d come up with for air leakage testing to be used in New York state, why not submit it to the actual model code, the actual IECC. And so the 2015 had just been printed, and so as soon as it’s printed, you have to think about the next code cycle, which is the 2018 version. So we had the language ready and so he somehow got involved and figured out, you know, on the IECC website how to submit a change proposal. And so he did that in time and that had to be done by January of 2016 so New York state hadn’t even used the 2015 IECC. He had just seen it in language through the amendment process. And so he submitted the change, and he was also not well versed in code development. There’s probably other people in our company that did code development work, but that was his first experience with it.

Robb (05:08):

Okay, cool. And long story short, that did not go through. So then he passed the torch to you for this next round of code amendments. Is that right?

Gayathri (05:20):

Sort of. So what happened was there’s three stages to the code development process.

Robb (05:26):

So let’s talk. So it’s 2020 now. So in 2019, you or people you were working, with submitted amendments went to several hearings or meetings about those amendments, and then there was ultimately some voting, which we’ll get into, but was the whole process like in 12 to 16 months?

Gayathri (05:54):

Basically, it’s very rapid fire. And so the story of some of those amendments actually starts with Sean’s proposal. So he initially submitted that proposal, air leakage testing in 2016. Right. So every code cycle, it’ll always start with a proposal. And you’re right, we submitted a couple amendments. He had submitted one, but what happened was, is he, he moved to Australia. So he missed two key parts of the process. So after you submit a proposal, there’s a committee action hearing and we’ll talk about that. And then there’s also a public comment hearing. So because he missed those very critical rounds, he roped me into it at the public comment hearing level. And so I tried and failed because I knew nothing about what the cycle was, but I gained a lot of experience from that experience at that the public comment hearings, learned who the players were, tried to defend a proposal in front of a lot of people and learn who my opposition was. So I learned it the hard way. And so then fast forward to three years later, I knew a little bit more about the process than I did back in 2016. And so I used that and I knew what the dates were. You know, I knew how to propose something by 2019 for the 2021 IECC. So none of our States are using the 2018 IECC, I don’t know, a year and a half ago. Who to reach out to, to collaborate to propose something and submit it by January of 2019.

Robb (07:14):

Okay. Okay. So you were involved with three three amendments, right? Yes. And we had talked a little bit before, it might make sense to focus on the simplest amendment first, what was the simplest amendment?

Gayathri (07:32):

The simplest one to just show you how it goes through the process is one where I wanted to submit a change for multifamily buildings that are subject to the commercial code. People in the past, had to get proposals in for multifamily because they get cut at the three-story height, you know, three stories and less its residential. Four stories and up is commercial.

Robb (07:51):

So you could have a three story multifamily building, add one more story, even though they’re exact same apartments, exact same construction type, entirely different code?

Gayathri (08:03):

Exactly. Very Different requirements. And so people had tried and failed in the past to provide some kind of unified path forward for code compliance for multifamily. So I thought of a simple one. So I submitted and basically there’s a code compliance path for low-rise multifamily called the ERI path, which is energy rating index. And so it’s not very popular but some people could choose to use it and because recent changes had allowed it to be used for multifamily high rise buildings, I said, why don’t I propose it as a code compliance option for high rise multifamily that are subject to commercial code. And so I submitted that as a very simple change.

Robb (08:35):

So ERI, it’s kind of like the HERS index, but the non proprietary version of a HERZ index. and so you can prove that you comply with for residential buildings with, by getting a hers rating or getting an ERI.

Gayathri (08:50):

Yes. For code compliance. Since 2015 there has been an ERI path. Most people will, a prescriptive code compliance use a Rez check. There’s also a simulated performance path. And then they had introduced in 2015 this ERI energy rating index path.

Robb (09:05):

I think you had said it was existing for high rise, but it was actually existing for residential and low rise and you propose to make it an option for high rise.

Gayathri (09:14):

Correct.

Robb (09:14):

Okay. Okay. Nice.

Gayathri (09:17):

And so because that had changed relatively recently that you could do an ERI on a apartment in a multifamily high rise building, that’s a relatively new change. That’s why it was limited before when they introduced it in the 2015 IECC, it was limited to residential low rise multifamily three stories and below. It was limited to them from the beginning. And so, because I knew it had changed, I introduced a, a sentence in the commercial provisions.

Robb (09:44):

So, so wait a minute. When you say you knew it would to change, you mean like you couldn’t even get an ERI in a, in an apartment in a high rise building?

Gayathri (09:52):

Correct.

Robb (09:52):

Okay. Okay. I didn’t follow you there. So Even pre-code just the whole ERI concept, you couldn’t apply it to a high rise building? And then now you can?

Gayathri (10:03):

Exactly. And so that, I mean that was a process that took some time. But yeah, historically you weren’t able to do the ERI except for units in buildings that are three stories and less. So when that change came about and I was aware of that I introduced it as a possible option if a commercial multifamily building now that this ERI was now available due to recent changes in that standard. I wanted to say they could choose it as their code compliance path. So it was just going to be an option. And so I figured I would throw it in there and I knew I’d failed in the previous code cycle, but I figured this would draw out the opposition so I’d hear what they didn’t like about it. And so it was a simple proposal. It went in. I also failed to attend the committee action hearing for this particular proposal.

Robb (10:44):

Oh, okay. So back up, so you submitted this, so this was trying to get it into the 2021 code. You submitted the proposal in January of 2019?

Gayathri (10:57):

Yes.

Robb (10:57):

Okay. So you submitted the proposal and then, then what happens?

Gayathri (11:01):

And then what happens is a committee action hearing. And so this is part of every code cycle. So once you put in a proposal, there’s hundreds and hundreds of proposals. You don’t know who’s going to propose something similar to what you proposed, who’s going to contradict you. You don’t know what sections. It’s just the wild, wild West. It’s all unknown. And so there’s hundreds, hundreds. And this is just, this is just that IECC if we’re talking about all the other codes, I’m not even involved in that. And so you can access all the proposals. So you know what else is being proposed and similar sections and you can find out who they are, who the people are that propose them. But you go to the committee action hearing and this is where you defend your proposal. And so in this simple example of this, this one of my proposals I wasn’t, I didn’t stay on for the committee action hearing on this.

Robb (11:49):

Whos the committee?

Gayathri (11:50):

So theres the commercial provisions and residential provision. So there’s two sections of the IECC. So they have a residential committee at about 11 people on that that committee. And then the commercial committee was about 14 people. I don’t know how they pick those members. Again, I’m not this, I’m not the expert in co-development, but they have a list of members that are on the residential side and then a different group for commercial. So it’s a long process. It was over 10 days of testimony cause there’s hundreds and hundreds proposals and it’s a, it’s a very long amount of time to get everyone the opportunity to speak. So you don’t know what day you’re going to speak necessarily. And so I couldn’t stay for 10 days in a row to wait for my commercial proposal to be heard. And so I left. And so I listened to the testimony. It was 30 minutes. So people get up and you know, there’s lots of opposition. I had a couple of people speak in my defense. But anyways, it failed. The committee was not, you know, there wasn’t enough testimony and support in my proposal. I think if I’d been there, I probably could have argued against the opposition pretty effectively, but I wasn’t there. And so basically it fails.

New Speaker (12:57):

Is this just a simple majority from the committee?

Gayathri (12:59):

Simple majority from the committee.

Robb (13:00):

And who’s on the committee?

Gayathri (13:02):

I actually don’t know. It’s a, it’s a mix of people. There’s definitely a few faces that I recognize. There’s usually they try to keep it balanced. So between like building industry and then energy advocates, I think there’s a mix of people that they have to keep on the committee.

Robb (13:18):

So here’s a question. Since your proposal was to treat high rise residential units as residential units, that was the commercial committee that had to hear that? Or was that the residential committee that had to hear that?

Gayathri (13:33):

The commercial committee had to hear it. Cause you basically have to propose specific words for the IECC and that’s it. Those are the words that will get used if it gets, if it’s successful, nobody else goes back and wordsmiths your language. This is it. If you see typos in the code, that’s because that’s what happens. It’s not that the IECC goes back and says, Oh, what they meant to say was this. Now it’s, that’s it. You have one shot at it. And so because they didn’t like, you know, but they outlined they have to give rationale for their reason for rejecting it. And so for this particular one, they weren’t confident that the, the expansion of scope of the energy rating index was warranted to go to high rise. They were concerned about central systems and multifamily high rise buildings. They had a couple, you know, good reasons for wanting to have heard more or understood more. But the problem was I wasn’t there to give them all the answers. And so the next step, if you aren’t going to admit defeat is to submit a public comment. And so once they announced that the committee has made all their, their decisions, so they, they print out all the results and you can decide, I want to submit a public comment. And there’s a deadline. I think it was in early June or July. So you have to submit a public comment to bring your proposal back to give it a chance. And so that happens at a public comment hearing in October.

Robb (14:55):

Okay. So yeah, a few weeks or months after the first meeting, which was called the committee action hearing they published their decisions and it’s basically either thumbs up or thumbs down. The majority of the committee

Gayathri (15:09):

Yeah. And the document will show exactly how many committee members will be like, you know, 14 to zero or 13 to one. You’ll see the number of committee members who voted for and against and they have to give you some kind of summary statement of why, you know, it doesn’t wrap up the entire conversation. You know, the testimony for this one was 30 minutes. So they just have to give a, a sentence or two about why they, they didn’t like it.

Robb (15:30):

So then you’re not done. Then you submit a public comment.

Gayathri (15:37):

A public comment. And so the public comment anyone can submit, anyone can submit a public comment. And so for this particular one, I was the original proponent of the change proposal. I’m submitting a public comment. I did two of them, actually I did one just in support of my original one because I thought it was a good sound proposal. I just wasn’t there in person to defend it. And so you submit it online with a reason statement of why you think it should be heard again. And so I did one like that. And then the second one I did was to actually broker a compromise. You know, I’d heard loud and clear from the testimony of why they didn’t like it. So I said, okay, I hear you.There’s qualms about central systems. So I limited the scope of the language in the, in the proposal to say you can use this but not if you have central systems.

Robb (16:25):

So only if the heating, cooling, water, heating

Gayathri (16:27):

was all in unit systems. It seemed like what I heard from the testimony from the committee action hearing was that was kind of like the really point of contention. And I thought, you know, all right, I can meet them halfway, I’ll propose two, and so the reason to propose two is then it gets on the public comment hearing agenda. If you don’t submit anything, you never get a chance to defend it again at the public comment. So if I’d missed that it would just be dead in the water. And so you have to make sure that you submit a public comment. The, the hurdle is much higher. It’s we’ll get to voting probably at some point in this conversation, but usually it is just a 50% simple majority vote to disagree with anybody’s proposal. So it’s very easy to reject changes.

Robb (17:13):

So, so, so hang on, so anybody and everybody can submit a public comment. And probably most people who have their proposed amendment rejected will come back and submit a public comment. Okay. So they submitted public comment and then there’s this next meeting, which is a public comment hearing. I should be able to remember that name, but I won’t. So at the public comment hearing, which was, which was when in 2019?

Gayathri (17:40):

it’s usually in October. And so the committee action hearings usually like in April or may and then the public comment is usually in October.

Robb (17:50):

All right, so you went out to Vegas, wasn’t this one?

Gayathri (17:52):

This year was in Las Vegas.

Robb (17:53):

So then is this another 10 day?

Gayathri (17:59):

The window’s a little shorter because there’s not as many proposals on the public comment agenda. So in the committee action hearing, everybody’s proposals are being heard. And it’s just the committee of 11 people on the residential and it was 14 on the committee, on the commercial one everyone gets heard, but everyone only gets two minutes to speak in favor. And then one minute opposition. But it’s all the proposals on the public comment hearing agenda, the, it’s less, right. So if their original proposal was well liked by the committee and they said thumbs up and nobody submits a public comment, that’s not on the public comment aGendra so we’ve whittled down the number of proposals that are going to be heard.

Robb (18:38):

I see. So it’s both ways. They turn proposals down and then people who actually want them submit a comment or they give the proposals a thumbs up and people who don’t like them will submit a comment. Okay. So then what’s that like? Like do you at least have an idea of when your, when your amendment is going to be heard?

Gayathri (19:00):

It’s not a very clear idea. They give you a schedule and so they try and stick to it. And so some days you’d be there from 8:00 AM and they’d say we’re going to go until seven but then you’d be there and they’re like, we’re not making enough progress so we have to get, you have to go through it a lot faster. So you could be be there until 10 o’clock at night. So you know some people you just have to book a one way ticket because you don’t know. There was definitely times where I thought my proposal might not get heard before I have to leave. And so it is a little, it is very hard. Yeah.

Robb (19:26):

Like, is there an order, like there’s 4,000 comments, you’re 2,782 or whatever?

Gayathri (19:34):

They do Print the agenda. The hearing order. Okay. And so what happens is at the beginning of the public comment, hearing people can make a motion to reorder certain proposals and regroup them and things like that. But it has to be sustained by the voting members. So some people will just see that, you know, there’s a getting moved ahead or behind to somebody and they’ll reject it for that reason. So yeah, you definitely need to be present when certain things like that happen. But yeah, you can change the order on it. It is a lot.

Robb (20:04):

Wow. So wait, is it the same 11 or 14 people?

Gayathri (20:11):

Ah, no. Good question. That’s different. It’s totally different. So the committee action hearing, right? the first meeting in April, right? So you have this great proposal, it’s a great idea. You’re defending it against the opposition. Anybody who can talk to you, but you’re only trying to convince the people on the committee. So there was 11 or so people on the residential 14 on, on commercial. And the public comment hearing is completely different. You’re not trying to convince a committee, you’re trying to actually come convince voting members. And we haven’t talked about voting members yet. So voting members are people like government and state officials. It could be from like your local department of buildings, every jurisdiction, all these authorities having jurisdictions, they have these voting members that go to the public comment hearing cause they’re basically there to see which proposals are probably going to make it into the next round of the model code. And so whether they like it or not, whether they’re going to have to have all this extra work the next time the model code gets adopted by their state or if they’re going to have to change it. So they have a vested interest to be there and they get to vote. So they get to hear it firsthand from anyone who had a proposal to see if they actually support it. So that’s who you’re trying to convince.

Robb (21:18):

There must be thousands of these voters you would think in the country, but then any of those thousands can come to this meeting?

Gayathri (21:27):

Yes. Yes. But guess how many were there actually voting? I mean like we just sat like there’s so many days on end that you have to commit to being here.

Robb (21:38):

112?

Gayathri (21:40):

For certain codes. Like so there’s the IRC, the international residential code, there’s a building code, mechanical code. So when they got down to the IECC, the residential provisions, some of the votes were only a total of 60 voters. So it’s not a lot of people.

Robb (21:56):

So this second round of meetings, the public comment hearing, there are thousands of potential voters, tens of thousands probably.

Gayathri (22:09):

Yeah, definitely thousands. But the only ones that can vote are the ones that actually make the trip to wherever the hearing is and this year was in Vegas. And if they’re in the room at the time that the proposal is heard. So there was a lot of ebb and flow of like how many people were in the room. So you could, you know, they could break for dinner and your proposal, it could be the next one up. And here you are in Las Vegas. People don’t come back after dinner. And so all of a sudden there’s only 11 voters when your proposal is heard and it fails because there’s just not enough people. Or the people that you knew were going to vote your way are gone now.

Robb (22:41):

Okay. So, all right. So anyways, you have 11 to 20,000 voters in the room and you have what? So your amendment is called number 2784, whatever. And you come up and so you will explain your public comment, so what happened with this?

Gayathri (23:11):

So we’ll go with this example. So this first example, right? So first of all, the committee hated it, right? So it got denied 14 to zero on April. So it was, so the motion on the floor, so this all lots of wording that I was not familiar with before. The motion on the floor is the committee disapproved it. Okay. Right. So basically the first motion on the floor in Vegas at the public comment hearing is to sustain this move, this disapproval vote that the committee had. Okay. So they say, you know who wants to speak? Who wants to speak in favor of the committee’s motion for disapproval. So all the same people that hated it before get up and speak again. But this time I’m there. And so I also have some other people that did like the proposal who had spoken on on behalf of it when I wasn’t there. And so we all line up and we speak in favor of it. So it’s a two step process at the public comment hearing if the committee already said they did not like it, you have to convince enough people. It’s a simple majority of the voting members to at least allow you to present your public comment.

Robb (24:13):

So you just end up convincing twice. Okay, so you stand up and say, I make a motion to explain the rationale for this amendment or, or in this case, the modifications I’ve made to the amendment.

Gayathri (24:24):

Yes. So basically that first, that first step is like they all say all the things they hated about it. You got up and say, no, it was really good. And we really want to convince you guys to let us talk about the public comment. The first motion is to let them, you had to convince them to say the public comments worth hearing. And so we cleared that bar. We told them, you know, we have two good public comments, just give us a chance. And so we had the, we got the simple majority to say, all right, we’ll give them a chance to explain the public comments. And then public comment comes out and I had two options, right? I was just the same one I’d proposed before. And then the one where I said, you know, here’s a compromise. The, the commercial committee on this didn’t like it cause it was too broad in scope had central systems. So I have a public comment that’s very limited. And so when I defended that one that got, you know, 80% of the vote in the room, the compromise did. And so that became the standing motion instead of disapproval. The public comment hearing results would say that that was as modified by public comment that becomes the result from this public comment hearing was that instead of disapproval we want to go through with this proposal, but as modified by a public comment.

Robb (25:37):

Were the initial committee members there also?

Gayathri (25:39):

Yes. So a lot of the original committee members were there. They are, some of them are still voting members and so they might’ve been there voting. I know I spoke to a couple of them to, you know, get their firsthand input on why they liked it or why they didn’t like it. So yeah, they’re voting, they’re also voting members.

Robb (25:56):

Okay, cool. So did anybody come stand up and speak against it?

New Speaker (26:02):

Oh yeah. Pretty much the same people from the committee action hearing, which I wasn’t there for, but I watched the videos. I knew who they were. There’s video of all of this.

Robb (26:14):

So we’ll, I’ll make sure to put the link to that in the show notes for everybody who can’t wait to watch two weeks of code hearing. Oh my gosh.

Gayathri (26:25):

Oh, and also the committee action hearing. So We’ll just leave it at, I was convincing enough that it was worth the vote of the people, the room, and they agreed.

Robb (26:44):

Okay. Very good. Then it came out of Vegas at the committee after the public comment hearing. Then all of these hundreds of proposals go to all of those thousands of voting members across the country. Is that right?

Gayathri (27:05):

Well, you basically, you do have to get into the system, you have to like there’s a deadline. I’m not a voter. So the online voters, they call them the governmental member voters or something like that. So only certain people can vote. Like the people in the public comment hearing, you know, they had a vote cause they were like a local official and they were there. So those are the same kinds of people that can vote online. So there’s this online vote that happens in like November or December. And so at that point you there was some deadline where you had to register. It’s just like voter registration. You had to make sure you registered to vote in time and if you did, then you can participate in the online vote and you don’t have to vote for every single proposal. You can go in and cherry pick the ones you want to vote for.

Gayathri (27:45):

But when you go and do your vote, they’ll give you the whole history. So the original proposal is there, you’ll have the voting results from the original committee. You’ll see that like in my example that they disapproved it. You’ll see that in the public comment round, they, you know, the, the committee was overturned and the public comment decided that they liked the public comment. And so the voter will get to see all of that. They’ll get to see the numbers, they’ll see their original language, they’ll see the modified language and they can make a decision. And so that’s the final vote.

Robb (28:17):

And, I think you said that there were way more votes, way more possible voters actually voted this year. Is that right? How did the online vote work for this?

Gayathri (28:31):

So this one was a little bit different than the the first year that I was involved in 2016 when you did the public comment hearing, all those votes were just taken by a wave of hands. And so there was no electronic voting. And so in this code cycle, when we were in Las Vegas, all the voters had these electronic gizmos and they were doing their voting electronically. And so all those votes automatically transferred into the online system. And so, you know, instead of starting at zero votes, so like in the first set, the first one I was involved in back in 2016 when I got to the online vote, the one that happened in like November, December, there’s zero votes for any proposals. You start from scratch. But this year you at least started with the 50 or 60 people that voted while they’re in Las Vegas. And they have not yet released the final vote tallies for the 2021 IECC, So I don’t know how many people totally voted. I just know at least all the public common votes automatically counted.

Robb (29:33):

Wait, but, the online voting happened in like late in 2019.

Gayathri (29:40):

Yes. So like November/December It wrapped up. They just haven’t released the final voting tallies. They have preliminary results out. So we kind of an idea if everything goes smoothly. I think they just have to go back. There’s like a, a process, again, I’m not familiar, but there’s a process where they go back and check the votes.

Robb (29:54):

So, you know preliminary numbers but it has to be like certified or whatever? What were the preliminary numbers?

Gayathri (30:01):

So for at least my, this proposal that we’ve been talking about, it’s approved.

Robb (30:07):

By a good margin.?

Gayathri (30:08):

I don’t know. Those are preliminary thumbs up, thumbs down.

Robb (30:14):

So because it got approved at the public comment hearing. Does it only need A simple majority of all the voters to approve it?

Gayathri (30:32):

So this is where it gets complicated. So it’s a very low bar to reject any code change proposal, which is why it’s generally very hard to get a change through. So the voting body, if over 50% of people don’t like something, it just gets denied. So the one that I had, it got rejected by the first committee. So at the public comment hearing it didn’t need a simple majority. It needed the two thirds majority to get it through. And then once it gets the online vote, it still needs the two thirds to sustain it.

Robb (31:10):

so because that initial committee meeting turned it down, Each of the subsequent stages needs a two thirds majority to approve it.

Gayathri (31:23):

Yeah. So the bar gets raised higher, that’s what the purpose of that committee Action hearings.

Robb (31:28):

Okay. Okay. Yeah. But so then initial the initial tally looks like you got two thirds.

Gayathri (31:35):

Yes.

Robb (31:35):

Okay. And we’ll know the final results?

Gayathri (31:39):

I have no idea when, we are waiting. It looks like on the preliminary results, It’s going to be one of the most efficient code cycles yet if it goes through.

Robb (31:58):

what do you mean to most efficient codes?

Gayathri (32:00):

A lot of energy efficient proposals got approved.

Robb (32:08):

Oh okay. Should we talk about one of your other ones?

Gayathri (32:25):

So the other two I was part of were air leakage, air leakage tests. And so that’s how I got roped into this back in 2016 and because I failed at it, I knew I wanted to try again. And because I knew who the opposition was and I knew what they didn’t like about it, I spent, you know, basically 2018 corralling those people and saying, what didn’t you like about it? Can we work together? Instead of being on opposite sides of the aisle? Can we be on the same team coproponents of a proposal for air leakage testing on the residential side. And so we did, so we worked together.

Robb (32:59):

And we probably shouldn’t name any of these people?

Gayathri (33:02):

Maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t want to take credit for it, but I mean I guess I didn’t ask permission to mention them, but a group of us worked together to get the air leakage test metric changed. And so it was very similar to what Sean had proposed for New York back in 2015. And so we worked together and at the committee action hearing it was very well supported by the residential committee. And so in this case it was supported by the committee. So basically we haven’t talked about this yet, but if it’s supported by the committee and nobody submits a public comment against it, then it goes on something called a consent agenda. And so basically that’s just a shoe in to be part of the next code cycle.

Gayathri (33:49):

So we had this, we had this winning proposal on the air leakage tests. We’re very excited about it. There were two public comments against it. And so we worked with those two public commenters to ask them, you know, what is wrong with our proposal? How can we work together before this gets to the public comment debate in Las Vegas. And so in working with them up until, you know, that public comment hearing was at the end of October, I think up until like the middle of October, I was still working with them to say, is there a compromise we can work out? And so we did and we worked out a compromise.

Robb (34:21):

So Briefly. This was about air leakage testing in multifamily buildings?

Gayathri (34:26):

Yes. And again, this is this particular one I had two. One was for residential buildings and one was for commercial. So when I say residential, it’s low rise multifamily, three stories and less. So it was an air leakage testing. So since 2012 IECC the residential buildings have had a test to either a three air changes per hours of 50 pascals or five air changes at 50 pascals. And that’s based on climate zone. So the warmer climate zones have the five and the colder climate zones have the three. you can do this for a single family home, but it’s the same metric for apartments or attached townhouses. You know, the metric never changed and it’s a volume based metric and you can test it at the building level or you can test it for individual apartments. There’s no distinction. And so for all the States that have adopted the 2012 or 2015 IECC, they struggled with that metric. Because there’s a lot of leakage between attached units. And so the work around, because maybe their state didn’t amend the code, a lot of States did amend the code to make, you know, the three ACH 50 a higher number or something more easy to comply with.

Robb (35:29):

So I guess from our standpoint, let me back up. So when you’re certifying a building for code compliance or whatever, you take a blower door you stick it in the door to that apartment, you depressurize that apartment and only that apartment and you need three or five ACH 50. Some of that leakage comes from outside, but plenty of it comes from neighboring apartments up and down. So I guess our, our take is, you know, compartmentalization is good, you know, air leakage between apartments is bad if your neighbor smokes or you know, for indoor air quality reasons. So from an energy standpoint, yeah, maybe, you know, outdoor air is the biggest culprit from an energy standpoint, but for IAQ reasons that’s why we were kind of like, just test each apartment. Is that the rationale?

Gayathri (36:15):

Yeah. Well basically, the rationale was there were a lot of opposition that were stating very similar things. The air between apartment that doesn’t reflect an energy penalty. Why are we talking about this? You know, you want this for indoor air quality. And so I learned enough about codes that the way around that argument was that the codes already allow compartmentalization testing. So the code already said you can test an apartment individually to meet that requirement of the three or the five ACH 50 so I wasn’t actually introducing a new concept. It already had compartmentalization testing. It already allowed you to test and include air from a neighboring apartment to meet the compliance. So luckily for me, I could, I could stand up to that opposition comment by stating that because that was true. I wasn’t introducing some new testing approach. All we were trying to do is say let’s, let’s continue to test the way code has allowed these buildings to tests, but let’s give them a different metric. And so the different metric instead of the ACH 50 was a surface area based metrics. So we use 0.3 CFM at 50 pascals per square foot of the enclosure of the apartment. It’s a metric energy star has used. LEED has used, ASHRAE 62 two as used. And so that’s the one that Sean helped get into the New York state code back in 2006

Robb (37:31):

Okay. So for a single family home, it’s kind of all external, but for an apartment it’s some party walls.

Gayathri (37:38):

Yeah. And so we got that. So we limited the scope of it. And so that was part of that compromise. We limited the scope of it to multifamily buildings and very small single family homes. So it wasn’t going to be a metric that was gonna be allowed for all single family homes. And so that was the, that was a proposal. And so because it was approved by the committee, the committee definitely likes options. Builders have been struggling with how to meet the current test metric, this three and five ACH 50, they’re always looking for work arounds and guarded tasks and other approaches to comply with the standard. And so they liked this approach because it gave the builder and option a new metric that maybe they won’t have to resort to a more expensive test procedure to comply. And so they liked it. And so because we dealt with the public comments and they agreed to withdraw their public comment. And so in doing so, it came off the public comment agenda, which saved it.

Robb (38:34):

you lost me again. So This proposal would allow to certify a multiple low rise multifamily building, you could test apartment by apartment. Is that right? Per CFM. Per square foot

Gayathri (38:47):

Right. You could already test department department. That didn’t change. We were just changing the metric to this, this new one.

Robb (38:53):

Okay. The CFM per square foot of enclosure area. So two people submitted public comments against it after it was approved by the committee. But then you talk to those two people and got them to withdraw their objections. Correct. So then what happens?

Gayathri (39:10):

So by doing that, it saves the proposal. So the proposal now doesn’t get debated at the public comment hearing. So if it’s not being debated, the public comment hearing it goes on something called the consent agenda and the consent agenda basically skips the public comment hearing. And so all the online vote sees is that it’s just as submitted. So that’s basically going to go in as, as submitted. That’s the, if the committee said we like this as submitted, it skips the public comment hearing, it’s basically going to go into the 2021 IECC as it was. So that’s, that’s the Holy grail right there. That’s what you want. You want to go with a winning submission at the committee action hearing, get it as submitted and it has zero public comments.

Robb (39:50):

So in Vegas, you didn’t have talk about this at all?

Gayathri (39:53):

No, thank goodness. No. And again, this was like a week leading up to it.

Robb (40:00):

So what were their objections? Like you didn’t, you didn’t change anything? Did they misunderstand?

Gayathri (40:05):

No. Well there was two. So no one was just wordsmithing part of the definition that we had for enclosure area.

Robb (40:14):

Did you change something then?

Gayathri (40:16):

No, we did not change something. We told them like we hear you, We think maybe we could change this in this, in another code cycle. And so some things like that aren’t worth changing. And the way we explained it to them is, you know, if we do change this because you know, we agree with you that the wording could be better. The problem we face is now when we go to public comment hearing instead of just being a simple majority like this just skates through to the 2021 IECC, now you’ve raised the bar to convincing two thirds of the people that now we need the standard. So is the change that you want so valuable that you’d rather you’d sacrifice his whole thing just being shot and not making it at all? So they just wanted to tweak it. And so we said we hear you, but I think we could work together on the next code cycle to fine tune that language. But the substance of it is so important that we’re hoping that you’ll withdraw the comment so we can actually get this metric into the code. And then wordsmith, the fine details of it was just the definition of my closure area. Okay. And the other one was also, the other one was a little bit more complicated. Again, like I said, when people submit proposals, you don’t know who are all the groups that are getting together to submit proposals on the same section. And so there was a bunch of people submitting on air leakage test because it has been a struggle for so long for multifamily builders. And so it was just, it was kind of a conflict with something that they were trying to do. And so we kind of negotiated away where they would do their public comment and we had a public comment on theirs. And so we kind of worked out a deal that, you know, we overlayed all our, our proposals together and we realized, you know, there’s a solution here that works. And so that’s kind of, you know, they agree to withdraw their public comment on theirs on ours. And we were agreed to withdraw public comment on theirs. I know it’s complicated. Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s all about conversations and just work. At the end of the day, it comes down to, you know, a lot of us just want the same thing, but we’re kind of going at it the wrong way. Like you don’t know what your opposition, you don’t have a chance to have these conversations with people before you submit the proposal. You don’t know who those people are. So once you do know who they are, you work together and figure out what the objections are. And then you can get like a compromise proposal through.

Robb (42:33):

But, you do have people who are just, Intransigent is the word that’s coming to mind, but that may be a little harsh, but just really opposed to codes requiring more and more of builders and developers.

Gayathri (42:56):

There’s definitely two factions that are usually represented at these hearings and people that are kind of resistant to change and people who are saying we were not changing fast enough. So those are kind of dueling factions that are always out there. And so some of my proposals, you know, I’m only there for a couple things. You know, I was there for this energy rating index thing. I was there for air leakage tests. Some of these other folks are there for the long haul. They have proposals invested in every section of the code.

Robb (43:24):

So it still goes out to all the thousands of voters around the country for the online vote. But for this air leakage testing proposal, it only needs a simple majority Because The objections to the committee got withdrawn.

Gayathri (43:40):

Right. And so it doesn’t even need anything at the online vote. It on the consent agenda.

Robb (43:50):

Oh so It’s just code? It will be code? that you know for sure?

Gayathri (43:55):

I believe so. Again, I’m not a super duper expert on it, but the way I understand it is that the Holy grail is to get something on the consent agenda. And the consent agenda basically is the committee action. Like the committee hearing, they approved it, nobody put a public comment against it. So there’s no other reason to debate at the public comment. So when you get to the, so they hold a consent, there’s a emotion at the beginning of the public comment hearing and it’s something about the consent agenda and all the proposals. There’s hundreds that were liked by the committee. So it’s just one fell swoop motion like all of these approved. Yes, something like that. Okay. And so at the online vote, maybe they it again, but I think it’s another just motion like yes, obviously were going to check this all the way through. I’m not a voter, so I don’t exactly know it looks like, but basically my understanding is that is what you want. That’s, that’s the goal. And so I didn’t have to clear another 50% that was, that was just that, that was why it was so important to have that discussion with the two public commenters to say, do you really want to have your public comment go through and raise the bar on this? Or do you actually like the substance of this change enough to say, all right, we can figure this out. And they did. Okay. And so the other, the other proposal I had is that same metric number three, number three. So this was, you know, that’s if it’s good for low rise multifamily, why can’t it be good for high rise multifamily? And so in the commercial code they also have an air leakage section.It’s just not mandatory. And so it’s an optional test. And so optional test means nobody tests it. And so for a couple of code cycles, they had also tried to get A mandatory air leakage test to be part of the commercial code. So residential codes been doing this since 2012 IECC commercial’s just had this optional visual inspection. And so I was approached and asked, you know, can you submit this proposal? We’ve got a technical brief on this. Can you submit one? And I said, sure. And so basically they had three overlapping proposals. What happens is sometimes if somebody doesn’t like one aspect of your proposal, it’s dead in the water. Even if they like everything else, right? They’re going to nitpick about that one particular aspect. And even if all the rest of the good stuff, they support it, they can’t support it because it’s one aspect. So the approach was to split this air leakage test proposal into three pieces. And the one I was involved in was for multifamily. And so it was going to require air leakage test for multifamily buildings. And they wanted to do the same metric that we had successfully gotten in low rise or they anticipated, they didn’t know at that time, they anticipated we would. So the same metric, the same 0.3 CFM FFT pascals test the apartments. So that was one that actually was also submitted by the commercial committee that heard it in in April. That was in Albuquerque. So that was voted as submitted and then it did have a couple public comments that were approved. It was approved. So the committee liked it. They did think that it was a good time to change. And I don’t remember the, the makeup of that committee but they did you know, they supported this air leakage test becoming mandatory. Again, I wasn’t there and I didn’t watch the video for that one. But in the public comment hearing there were two or three folks that submitted public comments cause they didn’t want to do air leakage tests in these multifamily buildings. It’s expensive. Things like that. Multifamily or any commercial buildings, they had split it into three because they thought if multifamily got through but the other ones didn’t, at least multifamily got through. And then if, if the other one, which I didn’t submit that was for non multifamily. So the other commercial buildings under commercial code

Robb (47:36):

Didn’t I remember you mentioning you testifying on the, like there was a certain big box store that had some very strong objections.

Gayathri (47:43):

Yes. They had very strong objections, even though they have a giant webpage devoted to how sustainable they are for their consumers. But they were out there against doing air leakage testing because they didn’t want to spend an extra $20,000 on a test. So yeah. So in that case, very similar, the committee liked it. The committee liked it when I had a residential proposal on the commercial proposal, the committee liked it. This time there’s three public comments, but we didn’t work together. We tried to have conversations with them to say, you know, do you really want to pose this? Like how about you know, could you meet us halfway? And so those conversations didn’t go anywhere. And so that’s why we were faced with debating them on the floor in Las Vegas. And so we did. And so we being other co proponents, other likeminded individuals, people that you know come out of the woodwork when you’re at the, at the hearings.

Robb (48:33):

So who gets to talk? Like do you get to talk cause you are the initial proponent of the amendment?

Gayathri (48:39):

Yeah. Anyone can talk, with no qualifications, no credential, nothing. You could have anyone. Well maybe not. Again, these are code hearings. It’s not super exciting. So yeah you can walk up there and basically you just queue up in a line and everyone gets their two minutes to say something. And then there’s a moderator keeping track of everyone. Two minutes. You have two minutes of testimony and then the next person. Basically all the people that are kind of on the same side of the proposal, they all speak. So we all stand up in a line behind the microphone and we just kind of discuss who wants to go first and who wants to go. So I remember on the flight to Las Vegas, I had a lot of strategizing to do. So. I definitely, you know me, I’m very organized. I basically laid out everyone’s testimony and said, you will say this and we will say this and I don’t cause you only have two minutes. So we didn’t want to overlap our all our content and there’s a lot of content to get through. And so we kind of just coordinated that to, you know, these are the points each of us can cover. And then other people jump up and say what they want. And you never know what the opposition is going to say or who’s going to say it. Well you preempted a lot of the opposition. Well because you already know what they’re going to say because they’ve said it at the committee action.

Robb (49:59):

So you just kind of preemptively refuted?

Gayathri (50:03):

Sometimes you have to do that because you only have two minutes. And so you know, they’re going to come back and you can rebut what they say in another minute. So you just go, it’s a, it’s a lot of back and forth, but the moderator makes sure people aren’t duplicating testimony and things like that. So.

Robb (50:17):

So for this, for this commercial code air testing, I guess there are three amendments, three proposed amendment, is that what you said? Or three parts.

Gayathri (50:26):

So 3 independent Proposals all in the same section with the hopes that if all three passed they would work, they would get melded together and they would work. But they were willing to sacrifice one. If one had the support of the committee or the public comment voters, then, you know, one having one was better than having none. And so I think maybe, and I wasn’t involved in prior cycles, so I think maybe previously maybe they had failed by looping, you know, lumping them all together.

Robb (50:55):

Okay. So because the initial committee in Albuquerque liked these proposals, You only needed a majority of voters present at the public comment hearing to approve it in order for it to come out of the public comment hearing as recommended?

Gayathri (51:15):

Correct. Exactly. And so the people that are submitting public comments, they have to know that they have to convince two thirds of the people in the room that their public comment is better than ours. And so there was one public comment that was like another wordsmithing. But you have to get two thirds of the people to agree with that. And then same for like the people that just flat out didn’t want it. So they had to be more convinced.

Robb (51:40):

So all of these three, did they pass?

Gayathri (51:44):

Yes. So far, so far so good.

Robb (51:50):

So from the Hearing in Vegas, They all came through?

Gayathri (51:51):

Yes.

Robb (51:52):

All right. And then so then it goes to the online vote. So, okay. Backing up, in Vegas, you would need two thirds to overturn the committee’s recommendation?

Gayathri (52:06):

Yes.

Robb (52:07):

And then they didn’t get two thirds on any of these. So then it goes to the online voters and they would need to approve it by a simple majority in order for these proposals to become code? And did you get preliminary results?

Gayathri (52:21):

Yes and So these are all, all the preliminary results are just lumped in together. So nobody knows anything else. I mean the preliminary results are, yes, those are, those are in, yes. But again, everything’s just still preliminary.

Robb (52:31):

So you batted a thousand this code cycle.

Gayathri (52:34):

I was told that, yes. I don’t know what that means, but something to do with baseball. It was easier when you only had, you know, I’m only there defending like three proposals whereas other people are there with giant binders cause they have to speak in defense of every single section. And so I went in there and all I had to focus on were the three that I cared about.

Robb (52:58):

Wow. Yeah. And but you were psyched,

Gayathri (53:01):

Yeah, it’s so fun. I like a good fight. And the thing is, the things I was fighting for just made sense. You know, they made sense. We’d put in the effort to coordinate and discuss, you know, we reached out to the opposition to see what they didn’t like about it to understand it and we put words into the proposal that kind of addressed their main concerns. So I think we proactive about it and so I thought, yeah, I think that helped.

Robb (53:28):

Nice. Awesome. So what do you get on the slate for next code cycle?

Gayathri (53:35):

Oh my goodness. I don’t even know. All the little word smithing and things like that that people said, you know, Oh no, we got to go back and you know, fix certain things. I know these three proposals on the commercial side, you know, when they melded together it, some of it is a little clunky, so I know people want to, you know, fix that.

Robb (53:55):

But these are some pretty significant changes.

Gayathri (53:57):

Yes. That’s what I was saying. Like from the beginning, like, you know, this is going to be the code cycle that I think really makes an impact on how efficient buildings will be. That once they would adopt the 2021 there’s tons of proposal I was not involved in that were, you know, pretty significant changes to the 2018 IECC. So I think it’s going to be pretty impressive. Things like the energy rating index, you know, dropping those scores a little bit lower, making those more stringent. Yeah, so there was a lot of changes I wasn’t involved in, but yeah. You know, maybe, you know, maybe the next cycle air leakage testing instead of the 0.3 number, maybe we make it a little tighter, you know, maybe 0.3 goes down to something else, you know, we’ll propose something different. So yeah, no, I find it interesting and Challenging.

Robb (54:40):

So do you know when we’ll get the absolute final decision on all the voting for the 2021?

Gayathri (54:46):

I do not. I have asked and I’m sure the second it gets released there’ll be, you know, blogs about it and things like that because everyone’s just waiting because definitely the people that are into energy efficiency and advancing the codes and getting to net zero, they’re excited about this one. So the second it’s, it’s legit, you’re going to see blog posts about it.

Robb (55:05):

All right. And we’ll post it. Yeah, absolutely. And you have a couple of blog posts about this already that we can link to.

Gayathri (55:12):

Yes. When I came back there was just, so I was just so excited about this process and you know, coming away with a successful proposals, you know, this is a dry topic. But I find it super exciting and I just liked the idea, you know, I think even like Sean when he got involved, the fact that, you know, we work in buildings and we just don’t realize that we could actually be the ones that changed the rules for all the buildings, not just the ones we work on with our individual clients. It’s just like, if we want to have a broad impact on buildings, we got to affect, you know, more than the ones that we know of. It’s got, this is the international energy conservation code and so we need to raise the bar for all of the buildings. And so if we have a good idea that makes sense. It’s not just like my way or the highway, you know, reach out to the builders and say, would this change work for you? Yeah. So instead of just like fighting against like, you know, code is, you know, it’s too hard. It doesn’t make sense. Instead of fighting it and complaining about it, you know, you just go and submit changes to it. So I thought it was fun.

Robb (56:07):

Awesome. Thanks for doing it. Thanks for talking about it.

Gayathri (56:11):

Yeah, no problem.

Robb (56:16):

Thank you to Gayathri. We have quite a few links on the show notes page if you want to check out more on this topic. Gayathri written some blog posts about the amendments themselves that she was working on and also about the process that we’ve been talking about. And all of these meetings and hearings are recorded and we’ve linked to them to the relevant videos that deal with the amendments guy through is working on. And I was impressed watching some of these videos. The, the hearings were run very efficiently. People were very concise for the most part and professional, very substantive comments very unlike say political debates. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I learned a lot watching much about the process, watching some of these videos. And finally at the time I’m talking right now, late March of 2020, the results of voting have completed, but the, the code itself is still not final.

Robb (57:16):

As Gayathri said, the, there was a kind of a groundswell of changes that really will push energy efficiency in a lot. A lot of buildings if they all get approved, voters approved them. But now there are challenges as I understand it, there are challenges relating to the procedure. This procedure that we’ve been talking about for the last hour or so was not done correctly. And so the results, the 2021 IECC will not be finalized until these challenges to the procedure are sorted out. We have links to more info about all this. Also, show notes are at swinter.com/podcast that’s S W I N T E R.com/podcast buildings and beyond is produced by Steven winter associates. Our mission here is to improve the built environment. That’s really the core of our official company mission statement. That means better buildings or durable buildings, accessible, sustainable, healthy, new buildings, existing buildings. We are looking for help in doing this because it’s winter to.com/careers. If you are interested, we have openings in all of our offices, Connecticut, New York city, Washington, D C and our newest office in Boston. Thanks again to Gayathri and to the whole a podcast production team here. Alex Mirabile, Jayd Alvarez, Heather Breslin, Kelly Westby, Dylan Martello and myself. Rob Aldrich. Thanks.

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46 episodes