DoE:  Building Energy Codes are Working

January 5, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

home constructionThe effectiveness of residential building codes is the subject of an ongoing eight-state, three-year field test that began last year. Early results are in – and the news is good.

The study was overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy. Ryan Meres, The Institute for Market Transformation’s senior code compliance specialist, posted an update on the project at Builder.com, though the IMT’s direct involvement was limited to running the study in Alabama. He reported that the results so far are “much better than expected.” Wrote Meres:

While previous studies showed low compliance with energy codes in many states and jurisdictions throughout the U.S., the DOE field study data shows that most homes are performing at or better than code, on average.

The states in the study are North Carolina, Maryland, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. The interim results cover six of the eight states.

The study looked at newly built and unoccupied single family houses. One of the highlights, according to Meres, was that high efficiency lighting – which includes LEDs – has the biggest variability among energy items. Other findings were that in all states window U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) beat code; envelop tightness was at or better than code and duct leakage was better or at code. Frame walls were closest to code requirements of all the measured categories across the states.

This study is all about new single home construction, though there may be more to follow. “The current Residential Energy Code Field Study focuses exclusively on the single-family new construction market, so the initial findings from the study have no direct impact on commercial construction,” Meres told Energy Manager Today. “However, it is likely that the U.S. DOE will eventually conduct a similar study for the commercial market, but to my knowledge a methodology for conducting such a study has not yet been developed.”

Jeffrey Tiller, a Professor in the Building Sciences Program at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, thinks that the DoE project has implications for the commercial sector. “I would say that a key finding related to the commercial energy code is that a survey is an exceedingly useful tool for evaluating how the market is responding to specific individual measures in our state (and national) energy codes,” he told Energy Manager Today. “The results show materials and methods that different contractors use to install measures successfully. Such a survey can also show which measures are presenting the biggest challenge to contractors and designers.”

He suggested that a survey can estimate the gain from improved code compliance, provide input for training and determine how a region’s energy efficiency construction practices compare to others. “In my opinion, the information is well worth the cost of a survey, not only in terms of assisting efforts to capture energy savings that is being lost due to non-adherence, but also to inform future code development efforts.”

Energy codes are increasingly important as efficiency becomes an ever-greater issue. David Goldstein, the co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Energy Program, blogged late last month that energy codes will be a bigger issue – and a greater advantage – to builders as time moves forward. He wrote that building codes are becoming more flexible and the techniques used to put them in place are improving over time, which adds to their efficiency and efficacy.

Goldstein pointed to an early 2015 white paper by American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEE) that found that energy codes work:

Building energy codes squarely fulfill the requirements that EPA must weigh when determining emissions control measures that are appropriate for inclusion in a standard of performance under Section 111(d) of the CAA. We strongly encourage EPA to include building energy codes when setting the standards of performance that existing power plants must achieve in the final 111(d) rule and providing guidance to states on how to meet the standard.

The paper points out that Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish “standards of performance” as defined by the U.S. Code.

The bottom line is that building codes – be they for commercial or residential structures – are key tools in building efficiency. For some the most important outcome is saving money. For others, it’s furthering renewability.

For this reason, energy codes are generating attention. The USGlass News Network reported early last month that the House of Representatives had passed the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act. The story says that the bill includes a provision written by representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) that would compel the DoE to comply with a number of stringent reporting requirements.

ASHARE criticized the bill containing the Blackburn/Schrader provision and the Detroit Free Press reports that the Obama Administration has said that it would veto the bill. Regardless of the fate of this particular piece of legislation, the move suggests the importance that energy codes play in the overall landscape of energy governance.

2 comments on “DoE:  Building Energy Codes are Working

  1. Not mentioned is the fact that Pennsylvania has an option for ‘‘Pennsylvania’s Alternative Residential Energy Provisions.’’

    Were these studies peer reviewed and published in the responsible archival literature?

    Who is to say if the people preparing these studies are qualified and licensed to make these determinations?

  2. Yes Larry, professors from universities should not be trusted, because they know nothing, right? Sorry, I missed that age old quote, “I’ve been doing this for years, and you can’t tell me….” and on and on. Sounds like a contractor who wants to build grass shacks and sell them for half a mil. Get with the program sunshine. This isn’t exactly rocket science. Build it tight and ventilate right is not just a saying, that been around for years now, it actually works.

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