Policy Action Toolkit > Energy Code Reform

The building market demonstrates that efficient designs can significantly improve the energy performance of a building by reducing peak energy demand, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. The nation is recognizing that well-designed, implemented, and enforced building energy codes serve as logical starting points for policies that capture greater energy savings.

Setting state-level expectations for improving efficiency can provide a common goal for a state’s government and code community to work toward and can ensure support for codes within state government as a valuable part of high-level strategy.

Below we have categorized energy code policy actions into four different levels. Click on the level to get a description of the reform options and examples of policy action from different states.

Level One | Level Two | Level Three | Level Four

Level One: No Codes or Outdated Codes

Updating building energy codes to the most recent IECC or ASHRAE 90.1 standards – and requiring that any future updates be adopted within one year of these standards’ publication – ensures that new construction uses less energy, contributes fewer pollutants to our environment, and improves comfort and productivity.


Requiring Statewide Energy Code

Selecting the most current national model energy code ensures that code reflects changes in technology and design that offer increased energy efficiency.

States with no energy code in place should initiate a code adoption process to ensure the most current national model energy code is adopted.

  • Alabama House Bill 242 was an example of legislation introduced in a state with (at that time) no existing mandatory statewide commercial code.

States that have energy codes in place should consider updating to the most current national model energy code.


Eliminate Weakening Amendments

When adopting a national model code, it is important for states to adopt the code without amendments that weaken it. National model codes are developed with requirements specific to individual climate zones across the country – and in this way include adjustments for humidity and temperature. Examples of weakening amendments include lower window glazing U-values or wall insulation R-values that are below those required by the model code as written. State amendments may lower the energy savings impact of the code and make it more difficult for a state to use standardized support, information, compliance software, and training that has been developed specifically for the requirements of the model code by the International Code Council (ICC), the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).


Automatic Code Adoption/Revision Cycle

This process ensures that their code reflects changes in technology and design that offer increased energy efficiency. Adoption and revision of building energy codes can correspond with the publication of a new edition of a national energy standard or model energy code. This may occur if state regulation or legislation language refers to “the most recent edition.”

An automatic update built into adopting legislation can assure that every three years, when new national model codes are published, they are reviewed and updated at the state level. Each new version includes changes that improve clarity and fix problems, if any, as well as update the level of efficiency to what is cost-effective and utilizes readily available technology and practice. Without such a mechanism, state updates rely on action by a state agency or other party to bring up the code for revisions, where there is often no such party designated. In this situation, energy codes can quickly become outdated. We recommend this policy to keep states current with federal legislative requirements on codes (EPAct 2005) and with widespread minimum energy efficiency practices.

A state can also tie adoption or revision to the publication date of an energy standard or model energy code to ensure automatic updates by incorporating the following language, e.g. “this regulation shall take effect one month from publication of the adopted model energy code.”


Create a Regulatory Process

States typically update their building energy codes through a legislative or regulatory process. In a legislative process, passage of new code policy has to fit within certain time frames and compete with other state priorities, in addition to requiring the debate of a large, diverse, and generally non-technical group. A regulatory process, by comparison, can be set up by legislators with the authority and framework to support a thorough, well-informed review and debate, ending in implementation of a new and potentially revised code. Establishing a Technical Codes and Standards board that consists of a variety of stakeholders can also build broad support for the energy code, minimizing enforcement problems.


Increase Code Uniformity Across State

City and county jurisdictions have adopted a variety of energy codes for both residential and commercial buildings. While in home rule states, a statewide energy code may be unlikely; increasing the uniformity of building energy codes across jurisdictions makes it easier and more cost-effective for builders and contractors to construct residential and commercial buildings.

  • Colorado House Bill 07-1146 requires every county or municipality that has adopted a building code by a certain date (in this case: July 1, 2008) to meet or exceed the standards of the 2003 IECC for all residential and commercial buildings. The bill also directs the state energy office to provide technical assistance and authorizes grant awards to the local jurisdictions for code implementation and enforcement.

Local Government Building Standards

While most states are empowered to adopt energy codes statewide, “home rule” states have limited ability to impose building requirements on municipalities. In these cases, local governments can adopt their own codes. On a local level, “greening of government” initiatives continue to demonstrate how legislative and local government actions can substantially raise the energy code standard in publicly funded buildings.

  • Pima County in Arizona is taking this approach (and thereby impacting a large portion of the state’s overall building stock).
  • Effective July 1, 2013, Phoenix AZ has adopted the 2012 IECC with city amendments. The new code also provides minimum health and safety standards for the construction of buildings in Phoenix.

State Government Buildings

In the absence of statewide energy codes, a few states have mandated application of an energy code for their government buildings. These facilities often are highly visible and symbolic, and they present a good opportunity to achieve cost-effective energy savings. Since a 20%-30% return on energy efficiency investments in state buildings is common, a number of states have developed policies that either require or encourage energy improvements in government buildings. This strategy not only improves a significant portion of the local building stock in many areas, but showcases the application and results of what can be achieved throughout the remainder of the market.


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Level Two: Pursue Beyond Code Efforts

States that have building energy codes but are interested in achieving additional cost-effective energy savings, can adopt advanced codes. Policy can mandate state agencies and individuals to achieve a higher level of energy and cost savings, and lower environmental impact. A powerful strategy for reducing energy use in buildings is combining energy codes with energy rating systems. The code establishes a bare minimum for energy efficiency while the rating system encourages innovation and provides incentives for better performance.


Green Standards for Public Buildings

The US Green Building Council developed guidelines to define sustainable building development known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. It is rapidly becoming the nation’s standard for designing, constructing, and certifying sustainable buildings. Many State and local green building programs are establishing LEED as a standard for construction through legislative initiatives. Implementing green building standards for city or state-funded projects ensures that future buildings will be efficient and environmentally friendly.

  • Arizona Senate Bill 1046 would require the governor’s energy office, in consultation with persons responsible for building systems, to adopt and publish energy conservation standards for construction of all new capital projects, including buildings designed and constructed by school districts, community college districts and universities. These standards would be consistent with the recommended energy conservation standards of ASHRAE 90.1 and the IECC.
  • Pennsylvania Senate Bill 615 would require the design, construction and renovation of certain state-owned or state-leased buildings to comply with specified energy and environmental building standards.
  • Massachusetts Executive Order No. 484 sets aggressive targets for facilities owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • The South Carolina legislature passed House Bill 3034 requiring that all state-owned and state-funded construction greater than 10,000 ft2 and any major renovation projects of greater than fifty percent of total building space or value achieve LEED-NC Silver certification or comparable standard. With a focus on energy efficiency, the legislation specifically requires a minimum of four credits earned in Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1, “Optimize Energy Performance.”
  • New Mexico Executive Order 2006-001 requires all new state buildings and major renovations meet The 2030 Challenge’s call for a 50 percent reduction in fossil-fuel energy consumption from what traditional buildings use by using a LEED based system.
  • Seattle, WA City Council Bill 115524 amended the Land Use Code to allow a developer to build at a higher density than is normally allowed under the code, so long as the developer can certify that the building will be rated LEED Silver or its equivalent. The amendment applies only to buildings in downtown commercial districts.
  • The District of Columbia City Council has enacted legislation requiring all new government buildings to go green. By 2012, all new buildings larger than 50,000 square feet – public or private – must conform to green standards.

Promote High Performance Schools

Several states have enacted legislation that encourages the construction of high performance schools.


Link Voluntary Programs to Code

A growing number of states have implemented voluntary programs to compliment code compliance programs.

Home Energy Rating System HERS
Voluntary programs for building energy ratings, such as the Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS) established by most states, encourage builders to go beyond the minimum standards set by the codes. These systems rate homes according to their energy efficiency, allowing lenders to take energy cost savings into account when underwriting mortgage loans.

  • The New Mexico Legislature approved Senate Bill 543, creating a residential green building tax credit that requires a sufficient HERS rating of 60 or higher for buildings to qualify.

ENERGY STAR
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlines criteria for ENERGY STAR certification of homes and commercial buildings. ENERGY STAR homes are typically 30 percent more energy efficient than a home built to the model energy codes. Stakeholders can go beyond codes and lock in greater energy savings through ENERGY STAR certification. This approach has been used in tandem with codes to ensure that equipment installed in homes is energy-efficient.

  • Virginia Executive Order 48, “Energy Efficiency in State Government”, sets out to reduce non-renewable energy purchases and increase overall energy savings. As part of instituting the energy saving goals, the order instructs all state agencies and institutions constructing state-owned facilities over 5,000 gross square feet in size, and renovations of such buildings valued at 50% of the assessed building value, shall be designed and constructed consistent with the energy performance standards at least as stringent as LEED or EPA’s ENERGY STAR rating. In addition, the order instructs the Commonwealth to encourage the private sector to adopt energy-efficient building standards by giving preference when leasing facilities for state use to facilities meeting LEED or ENERGY STAR.

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Level Three: Improve the National Model Codes

To stay current with product improvements and design advances that capture energy savings, model energy codes need to be regularly revised and improved. States and local governments should, at a minimum, meet the most recent model energy codes, but ideally they should lead by example – adopting and enforcing advanced building guidelines that exceed the minimums established by model codes.

Add Strengthening Amendments

States have the opportunity to amend the national model code to improve or strengthen the efficiency requirements and save additional energy. These types of amendments may include enhancements that increase building envelope R- and U-values, encourage higher HVAC equipment efficiencies and lighting efficiency, and promote green elements such as water conservation and efficient building materials usage. States are often ahead of the country on areas such as efficiency and can provide national leadership by improving the model code. This not only delivers additional benefits to the state: codes in states such as Florida, Oregon, Washington, and California have contributed to the development of the national model code.

State and city energy offices, building departments, and code officials are encouraged to participate in the code development process by sharing their local code amendments that exceed the national model code. Demonstrating experience with advanced code requirements helps provide verified energy performance results to justify needed improvements to the model energy code for the rest of the country. This active participation allows codes to stay in step with building sector advances and become more efficient over time while encouraging better building design practices.

  • North Carolina Senate Bill 668 required all major facility projects of public agencies shall be designed, constructed, and certified to at least thirty percent (30%) greater energy efficiency than the standard under ASHRAE 90.1-2004. For major renovations a twenty percent (20%) greater energy efficiency standard than ASHRAE 90.1-2004 shall be used.

  • California Assembly Bill 802 requires the Energy Commission, in consultation with the Public Utilities Commission, to make all reasonable adjustments to its energy demand forecasts to account for its findings of market conditions and existing baselines, and in making those adjustments, authorizes the commission to consider the results from specified programs.

  • Massachusetts Executive Order 484, “Leading by Example – Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings”, instructed all agencies involved in the construction and major renovation projects of over 20,000 square feet to meet LEED certification as well as energy performance 20% better than the Massachusetts Energy Code, independent third- party commissioning, and outdoor water reduction requirements.

  • The Chicago Energy Conservation Code prohibits black roofs and requires increasingly high solar reflectance for roofs through 2008 when roofs must conform to the EPA ENERGY STAR 0.65 reflectance requirement.


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Level Four: Enact Innovative Legislation

After a code is adopted, the code’s success or failure is impacted by the local building industry’s ability and willingness to comply with the new code requirements. Through the use of innovative legislation tied to the energy codes, some states and cities have been able to further encourage and improve compliance.


Allow innovation at the local level

Just as states can provide leadership for the country, local jurisdictions are often the leaders in their states. If state policy prevents local adoption of an energy code that is more stringent that the state, the opportunity for leadership is eliminated. Examples of local-level innovation include:

  • Encouraging technologies for better envelope or mechanical equipment requirements and/or building performance measures (e.g. house infiltration control, duct leakage testing)
  • Water efficiency
  • Resourceful material usage

Sustainable Design and Green Building Toolkit for Local Governments
US Environmental Protection Agency


Expedited permitting process at a statewide or local level

Local jurisdictions and states aiming for greater gains in energy efficiency can capitalize on consumer and builder preferences for sustainable home designs. Local jurisdictions have the power to prioritize plan review for homes that have the most energy efficiency potential. In turn, homebuilders are rewarded with quicker sales and given positive market signals for building the most efficient buildings on the market.

  • The provision HRS § 46-19.6 in Hawaii law streamlines building permit applications that feature home designs with a LEED silver or equivalent rating.
  • The Municipal Code of Santa Monica Ordinance 8.108.050 allows for priority plan check processing for building projects that are registered with the United States Green Building Council for certification under the LEED Green Building Rating System.

Point of Sale / Time of Transfer

Energy codes generally apply to new construction as well as to major renovations of existing buildings. It is becoming apparent that energy codes are not widely enforced in existing buildings, consequently neglecting a significant opportunity for energy improvements. However, there are portions of the current energy code that are relatively easy to implement in existing buildings (outside of major renovations) and deliver cost-effective energy savings. Some states and cities have made progress on improving the energy efficiency of their existing building stock through “point of sale” or “time of transfer” requirements. Generally, these ordinances target buildings when they change ownership and require the property owner to make some basic energy efficiency improvements or meet set standards before sale. Legislation applicable to rental properties also offers another opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock. Point-of-sale legislation is a recent but promising strategy to effectively leverage energy codes to achieve energy and carbon reduction.

  • Nevada Senate Bill 437 requires the Office of Energy to establish a program for evaluating energy consumption of residential property in the state. The requirement that the evaluation be conducted upon the sale of any such property remains, although the provision is self-regulating and realtors are not required to play a role or have any responsibility.

  • In Davis, California a building owner must show the building to be compliant with the City of Davis Building Code prior to sale or transfer of the building. The owner must make the building code compliant within 90 days of sale/transfer.

  • The Ann Arbor, Michigan Municipal Code, Section 528 of Chapter 105, requires minimum energy efficiency/weatherization standards for all rental dwellings, dwelling units, rooming units and premises in the City of Ann Arbor.


Energy Efficiency Disclosure Form

States can requires new residential buyers to receive information on how home meets, falls below, or exceeds the national model code.

  • Kansas House Bill 2036 established the 2006 IECC as the state commercial code and updated the Kansas Energy Efficiency Disclosure form so that the form provides information on whether a residence meets the energy efficiency standards of the 2006 IECC.


Linking Building Cost with LEED Requirements
  • Connecticut Public Act 07-242 (signed into law June 4, 2007) requires all new construction of public and private buildings costing $5 million or more (after January 1, 2009) and renovations costing $2 million or more (after January 1, 2010) to meet LEED-Silver standards or their equivalent (residential buildings with four units or fewer are exempt). It also contains provisions for energy-efficiency tax credits, bonds, and loans for various ENERGY STAR-qualified household appliances and heating units.


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Related pages:

  • Connecting with Stakeholders

    Each state approaches the energy code adoption process differently. In most states, codes are adopted through the state congress and pass through both the house and senate sides. No matter who is making the decisions on energy codes, making your voice heard is invaluable to the adoption process.

  • Energy Codes and ARRA

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided two opportunities for states to receive stimulus funds linked to building energy codes: Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants and State Energy Programs (SEPs).

  • Making the Case for Building Energy Codes

    Find sample support letters, sample press releases, outreach materials, and consumer resources here.

  • Public Buildings Policy

    This page depicts state-level policies for public buildings across the United States.

  • Understanding the Legislative Process

    How do states adopt energy codes? Most use either a regulatory process, a legislative process, or a combination of the two. However, some states are home rule, adopting and enforcing their codes at the local level.

  • Where to Begin: Types of Energy Codes

    Selecting the most current national model energy code (the 2015 IECC or ASHRAE 90.1-2013) ensures that code reflects changes in technology and design that offer increased energy efficiency.

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This page was last modified on: February 8, 2017