As the campaign against global warming gains political momentum, its reach can sometimes exceed its grasp. Like many political movements, zealous pursuit of a lofty goal can often lead to well-intended but ill-advised misfires. Arguably, this may have been the case with the recent proposal, now withdrawn, to ban electric resistance space heaters in the International Conservation Codes.

The International Code Council (ICC), which develops the code and administers the amendment process, confirmed that the controversial proposal has been withdrawn by its proponents. Representatives from two energy-efficiency advocates had submitted the proposal, which triggered a strong reaction from representatives of industries that would have been hit hard by the change.

The proposal, labeled EC123–09/10 in the proposed changes to the 2012 code, would have prohibited the use of electric space heaters, electric furnaces, electric baseboard heaters, electric wall heaters and electric thermal storage—collectively referred to as electric resistance heating—for space heating in buildings and homes.

Proponents’ arguments for the change could be best described as holistic, pointing to the high cost to run the devices and the pollution that is created, not directly by the devices themselves, but indirectly by the generation of the electricity that is used to power them. They stated that electric resistance heating is very expensive to operate for a homeowner compared to other heating sources. They also noted that, while electric resistance heating converts nearly 100 percent of the energy in the electricity to heat, most electricity is produced from oil, gas or coal generators that convert only about 30 percent of the fuel’s energy into electricity.

Proposing the change were representatives from ICF International, an energy consulting firm, and the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, a nonprofit organization that promotes the efficient use of energy in the Northeastern United States.

However, the proposal packed a potentially hard-hitting blow to contractors, architects, utilities and consumers who rely on the devices and consider them an effective tool in the effort to achieve more efficient use of power. Unexpectedly, they argued that the devices are beneficial because they allow for more, not less, efficient use of power to heat a home, by allowing for zoned or room-by-room heating, and for energy storage that captures low-cost, off-peak energy for later use.

A number of groups, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Edison Electric Institute, encouraged public comment on the proposed code change, which was withdrawn just as the comment period was drawing to a close on July 1. Although the codes are only voluntary, most states adopt them as their own, so the effect of the rule change, if adopted, could have been widespread.