Building Energy Codes

Building Energy Codes

Building energy codes have been used for many years as a cost-effective strategy to overcome barriers to energy efficiency in buildings. In this Analysis, J. Cullen Howe, of Arnold & Porter, provides an overview of building energy codes and examines them from the federal, state & local levels. He also discusses model energy codes and efforts to "green" energy codes to increase energy efficiency and reduce GHGs (greenhouse gases). He writes:

II. Federal Actions to Establish Building Energy Codes

     A. Energy Policy Act. In 1992, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act in an attempt to reduce the country's dependence on imported petroleum. With regard to buildings, the Act required states to establish minimum commercial building energy codes and to consider minimum residential energy codes based on current voluntary codes. It also established efficiency standards for commercial heating and air-conditioning equipment, toilets and urinals, electric motors, and light bulbs. In addition, it established a program for providing federal support on a competitive basis for renewable energy technologies.

     The Act gave impetus to the modification of ASHRAE Standard 90.1, which is an energy conservation standard for most buildings that was initially created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in 1975 and is updated every three years. ASHRAE Standard 90.1 is the most commonly used energy code for commercial and other non-residential buildings. The Standard is broad in its application-in general, its requirements address the design of all building systems that affect the visual and thermal comfort of building occupants. The Standard was last updated in 2007 and is scheduled to be updated in 2010. The Act initially required state and local governments to update their commercial building energy codes to be at least as stringent as ASHRAE Standard 90.1-1989, the most recent version of the Standard in existence at that time. Pursuant to the Act, every time that Standard 90.1 is updated, the federal Department of Energy (DOE) is required to make a determination within one year as to whether the amended version saves energy compared to the previous version. Once such a determination is made, states are required to adopt a commercial energy code at least as stringent as the national model within two years of DOE's determination, or explain why they cannot comply.

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III. State Energy Codes

     Most states have adopted building energy codes that apply to both commercial and residential buildings. As stated above, pursuant to the Energy Policy Act of 1992, all states are required to adopt ASHRAE Standard 90.1 or explain why they cannot comply. With respect to the IECC [International Energy Conservation Code], some states have adopted it without modification, while others have adopted some version of it along with state-developed amendments. Still others have adopted the IECC as recommended practice but have no statewide requirement that all new residential construction use it. A full list of states and what they require is available online.

     A. California. In 1978, California became the first state to include energy requirements in its building code. In 2008, the state adopted a Green Building Standards Code that applies to both public and private buildings, which is effective as of January 1, 2010. The Green Building Standards Code requires that newly constructed buildings reduce energy use by 15% above current Title 24 requirements. The Green Building Standards Code also requires that newly constructed buildings:

reduce water use by 20%;

reduce water use for landscaping by 50%; and

recycle or salvage for reuse a minimum of 50% of non-hazardous construction and demolition debris.

     California municipalities have the authority to enact stricter building energy regulations if they so choose.

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