Building codes are a crucial component of any successful energy policy because they create easy-to-understand minimum requirements for all new construction. In order to enjoy the benefits of an energy efficient building sector, a state or municipality must first adopt an energy code.
Making the right building design choices can be challenging. When faced with technical design decisions, it is important that building professionals are on the same page to ensure buildings are energy efficient and to satisfy other requirements.
The built environment accounts for roughly 40% of energy use in the United States, and as a result the building sector is a major contributor to carbon emissions and global climate change. By improving building performance with energy efficiency measures, energy codes provide an immediate strategy to address this global crisis.
When policymakers adopt energy codes, they regularly cite impressive statistics regarding reduced energy use and financial savings. Yet all too often, energy codes fail to reach their potential benefits due to a lack of compliance.
Code development is the process of updating energy codes to match advances in building science and construction practices. The iterative code development process gives stakeholders an opportunity to evaluate new technologies, explore construction challenges, and engage in an open discussion.
Energy Cost and Savings
The implementation of building energy codes serves one major purpose: saving energy. Buildings are a relatively untapped source for energy savings, as the construction and operation of buildings in the U.S. accounts for over 40% of all domestic energy consumed. There is no denying the potential to save money through more progressive energy codes.
Enforcement is the process that building inspection departments undertake to ensure that site plans and construction follow the provisions of the building code, including the energy code where one has been adopted. Without a significant emphasis on enforcement, code compliance diminishes.
States and local jurisdictions have many opportunities to access funding made available by the U.S. federal government to improve building energy performance through energy codes.
Green and Advanced Codes
These codes direct the design and construction of more sustainable buildings that go beyond the minimum code requirements to reduce energy use and environmental impact even further.
Implementation is all of the activities needed to prepare local building departments and the building industry to ensure compliance with the energy code. It includes outreach to stakeholders; on-site, classroom, and web-based training; and the establishment of an enforcement infrastructure, tools, and systems.
Access to information is a critical component to achieving successful compliance. Given the diversity of the building code community, execution of strategic outreach campaigns can improve understanding of code changes, create buy‐in, and can lead to greater levels of compliance.
State and Federal Policy
State-level policies on building energy codes vary widely across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories, and can sometimes even within states.
Training is critical for effective implementation of building energy codes. Code inspectors and members of the building and design communities must understand the code requirements for building systems, lighting, insulation, windows, HVAC, and other building components to ensure that new construction complies with the code.
Electric and gas utilities in the U.S. have grown increasingly supportive of energy efficiency during the last decade. However, to date almost all utility groups have stopped short of actively supporting energy code implementation. Fortunately, emerging frameworks and financial incentives are creating opportunities for utilities to advance energy codes and help their bottom line.