The Changing Face of Energy Efficiency Codes

November 17, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

building codesThe drive for energy efficiency and increased use of renewables is impacting energy codes.

One place where the changing face of standards is obvious is a pair of standards coming out of American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Illuminating Engineering Society (ASHRAE and the IES). One has been published and the other has entered a public comment period during the past month.

The finished standard is ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2016, which was published on Oct. 17. It is entitled the “Energy Efficiency Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.” The standard that still is in process is ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.2-2007R, or “Energy Efficient Design of Low-Rise Residential Buildings.” It is out for comment until December 19.

Both mandate changes to building envelop, lighting and mechanical standards. ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.2-2007R also proposes changes to onsite power systems, while Standard 90.1-2016 adds changes to the Energy Cost Budget (ECB) and Modeling structure.

The low-rise standard, which includes single and multifamily homes and small apartment buildings, lays out aggressive energy efficiency improvements. Ryan Colker, the Presidential Advisor at National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), wrote in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today that energy codes typically are updated on a three-year cycle. The amount of efficiency improvement in each cycle varies, he said. In the case of 90.2-2007R, “a significant push was made to get ~30% improvement between 2007/2009 and 2013/2015.”

Builders and energy and facility managers clearly have to be aware of the standards and statutes where they are designing, planning, building and operating structures. The size and type of structure matters in deciding which standards regime is in effect.

The application of energy standards is far from cut and dried. On the federal level, Colker told Energy Manager Today, 90.1 is the key for commercial buildings. It either applies directly or because it has been included (or “referenced”) by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). At the residential level, standards as stringent as IECC must be put in place. “If 90.2 can be shown to meet or exceed IECC then it would be okay from a federal perspective to adopt 90.2 (but 90.2 is not currently referenced in the IECC, so it would have to be an outright adoption of the standard at the jurisdiction level),” Colker wrote.

Another wildcard is that IECC is evolving. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points out that voting on changes to IECC standards is open until Monday. The NRDC’s Lauren Urbanek writes that there are hundreds of proposals for changes on the code. Those changes that are okayed will take effect in 2018. She says that while some improve the code, quite a few do the opposite. She offers the NRDC’s recommendations on both the commercial and residential levels.

The gradual adoption of new technology has to be considered when writing standards, according to Mark Lien, IES’s North America’s Industry Relations Manager. Lien told Energy Manager Today that LEDs, for instance, can comply with an old standard but at the same time not perform well because of the different characteristics of the two types of lighting. “It becomes very necessary to maintain quality while reducing energy in term of intensity as well as uniformity and color,” he said. “The IEF guidelines have been used in creating these codes to make sure good quality can be maintained at the recommend reduced energy levels. It takes a conscious effort to maintain quality with LEDs [though] it is very simple to reduce energy.”

Energy and energy-related standards are a patchwork of local, state and federal initiatives. (Lien offer a link to a very useful state-by-state map.) While they all are moving in the same general direction of reducing energy usage and increasing efficiency, it is a bit of cat herding.

Colker suggests that things are moving in the right direction. “We’ve been seeing significant progress in advancement of codes and standards to address growing interest in reducing energy use,” he wrote. “There are some growing pains in thinking about how best to address renewables and things like demand response, but over the next few code cycles, those issues should be resolved.”


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