For years, ASHRAE officials have been pointing out that the commercial and residential efficiency standards (standards 90.1 and 90.2) should be considered a bare minimum of efficiency these structures should achieve, but that they could in fact be made a great deal more efficient than that.

A new code has recently upped the ante of building efficiency levels, and the message for contractors is to look at the entire building as a system - not just at the mechanicals. U.S. state and local officials have voted to improve the national building model energy code to deliver a 30 percent boost in savings.

The 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) covers the construction of both new homes and commercial buildings across the country, as well as additions and renovations. The changes to the code help ensure that homes are better sealed to reduce heating and cooling losses, improve the efficiency of windows and lighting, increase insulation in ceilings and walls, and improve hot water systems to reduce waste energy.

Commercial buildings will also include daylighting controls, continuous air barriers, and the use of economizers for climate controls. Efficiency can be further increased through the use of renewable energy systems, more efficient HVAC equipment, and lighting. The measures also require that new buildings will be commissioned, to ensure that the actual energy performance meets the design brief.

“In the last four years, the International Code Council has accomplished more in efficiency improvements than all the updates combined since 1975,” commented Harry Misuriello, fellow of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). “Local governments clearly realize that they and their citizens have an important stake in reducing building energy use.”

It now remains for states and municipalities to adopt the 2012 IECC. It’s not expected to happen overnight, but states have committed to be 90 percent compliant with the IECC by 2017.

Brandy Powell, director of residential marketing, electronics and business development for the A/C Division at Emerson Climate Technologies, said that “Throughout the year, we have heard what may or may not apply to building codes.” The feeling the company gets from OEMs, she said, “is that a unified building code is coming. More and more states have them.

“For our planning process, we make certain forecasts. … We expect requirements and incentives around the 15 SEER baseline level,” Powell continued. If equipment were installed at a lower level, like 14 SEER, additional energy-saving measures would need to be taken to lower the building’s total energy consumption.

Local and federal codes generally apply standards created by standard-writing organizations. At its 2009 annual conference, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommended that a working group consider writing residential Standard 90.2 so that it is 30 percent more efficient than Standard 90.2-2004. It advised that the standard include both prescriptive and performance paths to achieve the new efficiency level.

Regarding commercial Standard 90.1, the society said that a building built according to Standard 90.1-2007 is 35 percent more energy efficient than one built in compliance with earlier standards. However, one built in accordance with Standard 90.1-2010 is expected to use less than one-half the energy per floor area than one built to earlier commercial-industrial standards.


The new national model energy code will boost the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings by 30 percent, thereby earning it the name of the “Thirty Percent Solution” (with a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). It was voted on by governmental officials assembled by the IECC in Charlotte, N.C., said William Fay, executive director of the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC).

The IECC, ASHRAE, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) also worked together earlier this year to launch the International Green Construction Code (IGCC). This represents the merger of two national efforts to develop adoptable and enforceable green building codes.

The IECC, which develops model codes that may be adopted by code jurisdictions in the United States or internationally, voted to improve the efficiency of the next edition of America’s model energy code, governing home and commercial building construction, additions, and renovations.

“This 30 percent increase in building efficiency … is a winning outcome for all Americans,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. “It’s clear by their overwhelming votes that building officials across the U.S. recognize that we can lock in significant energy savings for generations to come by making efficiency improvements during construction or renovation, when they’re cheapest and easiest.”

“Reducing wasted energy from the nation’s largest single user - homes and commercial buildings, which consume nearly half our energy - was the byword of the nearly 500 state and local government representatives who spent five days of rigorous hearings to evaluate and pass judgment on hundreds of proposals to improve (or weaken) the International Energy Conservation Code’s residential and commercial chapters,” said Fay.


An integrated, whole-building approach to improving efficiency in residential and commercial buildings is addressing all aspects of their construction.

To meet the 30 percent goal in the residential code, voting delegates added a number of improvements to DOE’s foundation from EECC’s package, “The 30 percent Solution 2012,” and other proposals. The resulting residential improvements will:

• Reduce wasted energy from leaky heating and cooling ducts.

• Improve hot water distribution systems to reduce wasted energy and water in piping.

• Ensure that new homes are better sealed to reduce heating and cooling losses.

• Improve the efficiency of windows and skylights.

• Increase insulation in ceilings, walls, and foundations.

• Boost lighting efficiency.

For commercial buildings, officials adopted the joint DOE/New Buildings Institute/American Institute of Architects package which, along with many of the features cited, includes those previously mentioned. In addition to ensuring that buildings operate according to design, commissioning can help monitor, identify, and make corrections to performance when energy savings don’t live up to expectations.

Several proposals were rejected that were said to weaken the IECC, like one that would have reinstated a provision that eliminated tradeoffs (under which builders could have installed less-efficient insulation and windows in exchange for more-efficient HVAC equipment that would have been installed anyway).

“Efficiency shouldn’t be an either-or proposition,” Fay said. “We need to both improve building envelopes and install high-efficiency HVAC systems. It makes no sense to trade away the long-lasting energy savings from tighter buildings.”


The efficiency improvements adopted by the IECC are made more practicable by using available technologies. In fact, the EECC reported that, according to one homebuilder, a 30-percent boost in new home efficiency is now a modest target, because a growing number of green builders across the nation are already delivering new homes beyond that level.

Because the inability to pay utility bills is said to be the second leading cause of foreclosures and evictions, low-income housing advocates have pointed out that efficiency improvements will make it possible for more low-income families to keep their homes. And a study by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that an average home that is 30 percent more energy efficient returns $511 a year in energy savings to homeowners.

ASHRAE and the IES worked together to strengthen requirements in ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 90.2, Energy Efficient Design of Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Standard 90.2 provides minimum requirements for the energy-efficient design of residential buildings.

According to society President Lynn G. Bellenger, “Now, as we focus on the residential market, whose 107 million housing units consume 22 percent of the primary energy in the U.S., we have the opportunity, once again, to define the actions needed to make energy conservation our ‘first fuel.’ By identifying ways for this major market to reduce energy use and costs, we serve the public and increase our energy security.”


“The next goal will be for states and localities to adopt the 2012 IECC so that all new homebuyers and commercial building owners can begin to benefit from improved efficiency,” said EECC’s Fay.

“And because states have committed to the federal government to demonstrate 90 percent compliance with the IECC by 2017, we want to work to support collaboration at all levels of government, to ensure adequate training and other support for the code officials who must meet this ambitious compliance target.”

For a comprehensive list of all federal, state, and local incentives; low-interest loans; and utility rebates, visit

Sidebar: Can Be Efficient

WASHINGTON - The average incremental cost of constructing a new home to meet the current energy efficiency building code, the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), is $818.72, according to a recent study by the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP), a nonprofit advocacy organization that supports code adoption and implementation.

Homeowners will see a payback in less than three and a half years, due to annual energy savings of $243.37 per home - more quickly if the additional $818.72 is amortized over the life of a 30-year mortgage.

When a home is built to conform to the 2009 IECC - which BCAP describes as a minimum but meaningful baseline for energy efficiency - home buyers get energy-efficient lighting and windows, a higher grade of insulation, and HVAC duct sealing and testing.

The incremental cost analysis can be found on BCAP’s best practice network, the O.C.E.A.N. website, at

Sidebar: VP Announcement

Vice President Biden announced a series of federal actions designed to lay the groundwork for a strong, self-sustaining home energy efficiency retrofit industry, during a Middle Class Task Force event at the White House last month. It was attended by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association’s (SMACNA’s) Capitol Hill office.

The actions he outlined included a new Home Energy Score program that will help homeowners make decisions about cost-effective home energy improvements; and a new retrofit financing program called PowerSaver.

The vice president was joined by Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ); Steven Chu, secretary of Energy (DOE); Hilda Solis, secretary of Labor (DOL); and Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“The initiatives are putting the Recovery Through Retrofit report’s recommendations into action - giving American families the tools they need to invest in home energy upgrades,” said the vice president. “Together, these programs will grow the home retrofit industry and help middle class families save money and energy.”

The initiatives announced include:

• The Home Energy Score program.

• The FHA PowerSaver loan program.

• New Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades, and Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols for Home Energy Upgrades.

• A Small Business Administration Green Business Opportunities course.

Said Secretary Chu, “The Home Energy Score will help make energy efficiency easy and accessible to America’s families by providing them with straightforward and reliable information about their homes’ energy performance and specific, cost-effective energy efficiency improvements that will save them money on their monthly energy bills.”

A Home Energy Score between 1 and 10 will be presented as part of a simple graphic that will help homeowners understand their home’s current efficiency level and how it compares to other homes in the area. An estimate of how much money could be saved by making energy retrofits. And a personalized list of recommended improvements will include estimated annual savings and an estimated payback period for each upgrade.

Publication date:12/27/2010