02/14/11

Building Energy Codes Fact Sheet

Benefits

Efficient buildings can improve energy security, reduce stress on the power grid and on natural gas supplies, improve local air quality, and save homeowners money. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that America could reduce energy use in new and existing buildings by more than one quarter by 2020 with measures that pay for themselves within ten years.

Buildings consume over 40 percent of all energy and over 70 percent of all electricity used in the United States, and are responsible for about 40 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions.  Knowing that it cannot hope to adopt sound national energy policy without addressing the largest energy consuming sector, Congress for decades has tried to encourage states and localities to adopt and enforce progressively stronger energy codes for new homes and commercial buildings.  Among those statutes are:

  • The 1992 Energy Policy Act directs states to consider the model residential energy code (IECC) and to adopt the model commercial energy code (ASHRAE Standard) or equivalent, with updates.
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 required states to commit to adopting and improving compliance with the 2007 ASHRAE Standard and the 2009 IECC as a condition for receiving their share of $3.2 billion in State Energy Program grants.

Why Improve Building Codes? 

  • Building energy codes overcome market barriers that inhibit investment in buildings energy efficiency.  For example, builders have little incentive to invest in energy efficiency since they pay the up-front costs but not the building’s energy bills, and buyers cannot easily predict how efficient a new building will be.
  • Building energy codes save consumers money. While there may be a modest initial cost for energy efficiency improvements, once that cost is rolled into the mortgage, it will be more than paid back through lower energy bills. Because the total monthly cost to the homeowner—mortgage payments plus utility bills—is lower, energy efficiency makes homes more affordable.

If model building energy codes are strengthened by 30% starting now and by 50% starting in 2016—and if all states implement the codes—the impact will be considerable.  In 2030, our nation could save 7% of its total energy use in buildings (3 quadrillion Btus), save consumers $25 billion a year, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 40 million cars off the road (200 million tons of carbon dioxide).  Even without further code improvements, cumulative savings through 2050 would reach more than 100 quads of energy and 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

 

The Process for Advanced Building Energy Codes

Building energy codes currently are set through a complicated process that is only beginning to address the national need to reduce growth in energy demand:

  • National model codes are updated every three years by two independent professional organizations, the IECC issued by the International Code Council for homes, and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 for commercial buildings.  Both of these codes vary by eight climate regions. 
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) provides technical assistance and is required to make a determination within one year on whether the amended model code saves energy compared to the previous version.
  • States (and some local governments) adopt the actual building energy codes based on the national models.  States are required to adopt a commercial energy code at least as stringent as the national model within two years of DOE’s determination.  For residential codes, states are required to look at updates to the national model and either adopt them or explain why they chose not to.
  • Local governments (and sometimes states) enforce the codes, but funding is insufficient, and even with good codes compliance is spotty.

Summary

  • New building energy efficiency must be a key part of any successful national energy policy because homes and commercial buildings are the largest source of energy use, a new building may last 30-50 years or more, and improving efficiency at time of construction is the most cost effective option available.
  • Legislation before Congress is not intended to federalize building codes—it is carefully designed to leave states and local governments in charge of setting their own building codes and to leave independent code-setting organizations primary responsibility for the national model energy codes.