ATLANTA — When it comes to energy use, the residential sector consumes one-fifth of all primary energy in the U.S. (21 percent) and more than half (54 percent) of all energy used by buildings, according to ASHRAE. Similar trends are also observed in other parts of the world. For example, in Europe, residential buildings account for 75 percent of the total building stock and were responsible for 26.2 percent of the European Union’s total energy consumption in 2012. Those figures reflect big energy use. They also present big opportunities for sustainability.

From economic, environmental, and energy security perspectives, a sector responsible for this much energy consumption requires significant attention, noted Tom Phoenix, ASHRAE president.

As such, ASHRAE is exploring its role in residential energy, looking at how it can contribute most effectively to the improvement of the performance of residential buildings. ASHRAE recently released a report, “ASHRAE and the Residential Construction Market,” which contains a series of recommendations to the organization’s board of directors.

“Our members perform work on buildings all day and then go home, failing to effectively bring the best of ASHRAE home with us to improve energy efficiency and IAQ,” Phoenix said.

Max Sherman, chair of the ad hoc committee on the residential construction market that developed the report, noted that one of the first questions the group explored was, “What is residential?”

In the U.S., residential is often associated with low-rise, single-family houses, he noted. This association is evident in the division in scopes between the International Residential Code and the International Building Code, and between the scopes of ASHRAE standards related to IAQ and energy. Additionally, mid-rise multifamily construction often seems to fall through the cracks and is not adequately addressed in either current residential or nonresidential standards, he said.

Sherman said the exploration into residential began under the guidance of 2013-2014 ASHRAE president Bill Bahnfleth. The committee looked at the importance of the residential sector, what ASHRAE is already doing in the residential sector, and how ASHRAE’s role is viewed in the residential market. As part of that, a workshop for key stakeholders was held earlier this year.

Sherman said research showed the residential sector is of growing importance.

Studies show there were more than 115 million dwellings in the U.S. (217 million in the European Union) in 2010. By 2030, this number is projected to grow to 141 million in the U.S. (241 million in the European Union). ASHRAE can play a significant role in the efforts to reduce energy consumption and the environmental impact of the global building stock.

“More than 74 percent of all existing homes in the U.S. were constructed before 1989 — before widespread adoption of model energy codes governed construction,” Sherman said. “More than 40 percent of the European residential buildings were constructed before the 1960s, when energy building regulations were very limited. By almost any measure, most of these homes are likely under-insulated, have poorly performing fenestration, have significant envelope air leakage, need upgrades to all HVACR components and delivery systems, and contain outdated and inefficient lighting systems compared to today’s basic energy code minimums. In addition, we need to treat these homes as systems that provide good indoor environmental quality for people. These needs define significant opportunities for energy, carbon, peak power, and water savings within the residential sector.”

Publication date: 10/13/2014 

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