Places We Watched in 2010 > Austin, Texas

Background

In 2010, Austin was one of the fastest growing cities in America – and with good reason. The city offered something for everyone: the political fervor of a state capital, the laid-back vibe of a college town, and the rapid pace of a booming business center. Although well-known as a progressive island in a staunchly conservative state, the city and its metro area struck a delicate political balance. Environmental issues often dominated local government, as the city’s success has fed urban and suburban growth, which some felt threatened the city’s core values. Nevertheless, Austin’s record of environmental concern and energy efficiency earned it a spot on the short list of the country’s greenest cities.

Austin Energy, the city’s community-owned electric utility, was one of the driving forces behind the city’s efforts. Based on their recommendations and others from a number of city boards, commissions, and stakeholder groups, on January 1, 2008, the city council implemented the 2006 IECC with local strengthening amendments addressing envelope performance, lighting requirements, HVAC reporting, reflective roofing, and vapor issues, among others. The most significant improvement was a mandatory third party envelope and duct testing requirement for residential construction. Utility staff also worked with the building department to provide onsite inspections of homes prior to granting certificates of occupancy.

Not content with the current rate of progress, the city continued to take aggressive action towards raising the ceiling for energy efficiency and renewables. Austin Energy’s Green Building Program was one of the nation’s first and most successful green building programs for both residential and commercial construction. Moreover, in 2007, the city council passed a resolution to move towards net-zero-energy capable single-family homes by 2015 through specific incremental improvements in the code and the incorporation of design features that would more easily accommodate on-site energy generation in the future.


Why We Watched

Commissioning

Austin Energy and other participating stakeholder groups put together a new set of amendments based on upcoming national language to incorporate commissioning of mechanical systems into the code. Although a difficult element to codify, responsible commissioning is essential to achieving long-term improvements in commercial building performance. Austin Energy believed that their commissioning language would be the toughest in the nation, but they also emphasized the workability of this requirement in order to leave the building industry with plenty of breathing room to adjust. Their primary goal was to make owners and builders aware of the benefits commissioning offers for saving money and improving the quality of their buildings. As with the residential testing provisions, the city anticipated the need to tighten and perhaps expand commissioning requirements in future code cycles.

Beyond commissioning, the city’s energy code amendments improved the basic performance of most HVAC systems by addressing leakage issues common to certain types of installations. For example, the requirement to encapsulate wall insulation enhanced the thermal envelope in commercial buildings. Furthermore, the utility worked with the inspections department to provide training to improve the consistency of energy code enforcement for all code requirements. These and other amendment items attempted to piggyback on the improvements to the national codes and ultimately provide Austin with the most conservative approach possible to energy use and carbon reduction.

Residential Testing Requirements

Austin’s amendments to the 2009 IECC included strengthening the existing residential testing requirements put in place during previous code cycles. One of the key amendments was to eliminate the entrenched allowance for batch testing of homes. Batch testing occurs when the builder chooses one home to represent a handful of homes at the same stage of construction. It was set up at a time when third party testing agencies were in their infancy. The proposed amendment eliminated it for single-family homes, but builders could continue to hire the third party tester responsible for inspecting the homes. Batch testing remained in place for multi-family residential structures since it is reasonable for these types of projects.

Model Energy Code Adoption

In 2010, Austin was nearing the end of its current energy code adoption cycle. The city held hearings on the 2009 IECC in April 2010 and expected to implement the new code by early summer.


Timeline

2009

Austin Energy Green Building releases its annual report. In 2009, the program saves 30.7 million kilowatt hours.

April 8, 2010

The Austin City Council approves energy code amendments. They include requiring duct blaster and blower door tests, CFL or LED lighting installation, and R-15 wall insulation for new residential construction. It is estimated that the amendments will save consumers $165 per year in energy bills. The amendments fall in line with the goals of the Austin Climate Protection Plan, which seeks to increase building energy efficiency 65% over the 2007 code by 2015.

June 4, 2010

The Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) officially adopts a rule to update the Texas Building Energy Performance Standards (currently based on the 2000 IECC with the 2001 Supplement) to the energy efficiency provisions (Chapter 11) of the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) for single family homes, effective January 1, 2012, and the 2009 IECC for all other buildings, effective January 1, 2011.


Texas Energy Code Status →
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This page was last modified on: August 16, 2016