Do Energy Codes Work? (fm Builder Magazine)

Preliminary results from the largest residential energy code field study ever conducted in the U.S. show they do.
By Ryan Meres


Last year the U.S. Department of Energy ( DOE) announced that eight states would be part of a three-year Residential Energy Code Field Study. Once completed, the study will provide an unprecedented opportunity to develop new strategies for education, training, and outreach for improving the energy efficiency of single-family homes, as well as a measurement of the impact those activities have on residential energy use. 

However, we don't have to wait three years to begin learning from this initiative. This month, DOE presented the initial field data findings from six of the eight participating states. The results, presented during a public webinar, were surprising—and indeed, much better than many had originally expected. 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. That being stated, the findings do not give a blanket stamp of approval, nor do they mean that homes are meeting all of the prescriptive energy code requirements. 

By averaging the findings, the data takes into account homes that are being built above the minimum code requirements along with those that are built below the code minimums. This means there's still a big opportunity to improve residential construction practices and reap cost-effective energy savings for home owners. For example, DOE estimated a one-year energy cost savings potential of $427,428 in North Carolina based on data gathered in the state's field study. There's also room to improve the codes in use: Seven of the eight states involved in the study are currently operating under the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). As of December 7, only Maryland—one statee included in the study—had the 2015 IECC in place. 

Collecting Construction Data
The results of this work carry national relevance: Along with
Maryland, other states included in the study are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The findings from Alabama were collected under the direction of my organization, the Institute for Market Transformation ( IMT). Additionally, West Virginia and Michigan are doing field studies following DOE's methodology, although they're not formally part of the initial eight-state project.

DOE's two primary goals for this project are to: (1) test a national methodology for measuring the impact of energy code compliance on energy use, based on energy use intensity (EUI); and (2) establish a business case to encourage private investment in the energy savings available through the energy code. As such, the study comprises three main stages:

1.       A  baseline  study to identify the energy use in typical single-family residential buildings in a given state and opportunities for improving energy efficiency.

2.       An  education,  training, and outreach phase targeting issues identified through the baseline study.

3.       A  post study to identify the change in energy use following the education, training and outreach activities.

Over the past twelve months, teams in each state have collected data on new single-family residential construction, following a strict data-collection process (i.e. no occupied homes could be included in the study, among other control factors). The data collection teams also had to gather observations on items that have the greatest impact on energy use—for example; envelope tightnness, foundation insulation, and duct leakage, to name a few key elements. 

Examining the Findings
So what is the study telling us now?  Here are some highlights as they relate to key elements that have the greatest impact on energy use:

  • High-efficacy lighting: The 2009 IECC requires 50 percent high-efficacy lighting, which includes LED's and linear and compact fluorescent lamps.
    • This item had the highest rate of variability among all the key items, with some homes having all high-efficacy lighting, about the same amount having none, and other homes falling somewhere in between.
  • Window U-factor and SHGC: Code requirement varies depending on climate zone
    • This key item was consistently better than code across all states, and no state had more than three observations where windows were worse than code
  • Envelope tightness: The 2009 IECC requires 7 ACH50, while the 2015 IECC requires 3 ACH50
    • This key item was generally at or better than code in all states, with a high percentage of observations across all states ranging from 4 and 6 ACH50
  • Duct leakage: Code requirements range from 4 cfm/100 sq. ft. to 12 cfm/100 sq. ft.
    • Findings here were similar to envelope leakage—generally at or better thhan code across the board.
  • Frame walls: Code requirements vary depending on climate zone (R-13 in warmer climates to an R-20 in colder climates)
    • This key item was most consistent with code requirements and wall R-values were generally exactly as the code mandates

What Do the Findings Mean?

Overall, the initial data and analysis coming out of DOE's Residential Energy Code Field Study demonstrate the success of energy codes as an effective policy tool for driving energy efficiency in the single-family residential housing market. It also demonstrates the diligence of builders and local building officials in ensuring compliance with the energy codes adopted in their states. 

A few additional takeaways for builders are:

  • Builders should pay special attention to the lighting that they are installing. The data seemed to indicate that in some states about half of builders were installing no high-efficacy lamps. LEDs or Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) can be used to meet the high-efficacy lighting requirements of the IECC.
  • While most homes met the requirements for duct and envelope leakage testing, this requirement will become more difficult to achieve when states move to more recent versions of the IECC. This means builders will have to pay greater attention to how their homes, and ductwork, are sealed.

To view DOE's presentation from the webinar along with the raw data collected in six of the eight states and lots of additional project information, please visit the DOE Building Energy Codes Program

E-mail correspondence to and from this address is subject to the North Carolina Public Records Act and may be disclosed to third parties unless made confidential under applicable law.

U.S. House of Representatives Misses Opportunity to Support Energy Efficiency

Dec 4, 2015

ASHRAE Public Relations
Contact: Jodi Scott
[email protected]

ATLANTA – This week, the U.S. Housee of Representatives had the chance to stand with the private sector, professional and nonprofit stakeholder organizations to reaffirm its strong commitment to support the development, adoption and implementation of private sector-led, consensus-based model building energy codes. Instead, the House chose to pass the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015 (H.R. 8), which includes language that threatens to reduce understanding of the potential full impacts of the model building energy codes by likely limiting the technical assistance that the U.S. Department of Energy currently provides, upon request, to ASHRAE, the International Code Council, States and Indian tribes for the development, adoption and implementation of these model codes.

"While ASHRAE is disappointed with the passage of this language, we applaud the efforts of Representative Peter Welch (D-VT-At Large) in seeking an amendment to H.R. 8 that would have replaced the harmful building energy codes language with language from the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2015 (H.R. 2177)," ASHRAE President David Underwood said. 

Previously introduced by Representatives Welch and David McKinley (R-WV-1), H.R. 2177, is widely supported and has been carefully negotiated over a number of years, embodying the collective wisdom of many.

"ASHRAE remains hopeful that Congress will ultimately demonstrate its support for market-driven energy efficiency by enacting legislation that protects the development, adoption and implementation of private sector-led, consensus-based model building energy codes," added Underwood.

ASHRAE, founded in 1894, is a global society advancing human well-being through sustainable technology for the built environment. The Society and its more than 54,000 members worldwide focus on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability. Through research, standards writing, publishing, certification and continuing education, ASHRAE shapes tomorrow"™s built environment today. More information can be found at

Energy Department Announces Largest Energy Efficiency Standard in History

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced historic new efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners and furnaces. Developed with industry, utilities, and environmental groups, these standards will save more energy than any other standard issued by the Department to date. Over the lifetime of the products, businesses will save $167 billion on their utility bills and carbon pollution will be reduced by 885 million metric tons.

"Just days after the Paris agreement to cut global emissions and create a new era of affordable energy, today's announcement marks the largest energy-saving standard in history and demonstrates that America is leading the effort to reduce energy costs and cut carbon emissions," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "This rule also shows that strong public-private partnerships can reap environmental and economic dividends and drive technology breakthroughs. These standards are a direct result of the Energy Department's negotiated rulemaking process which brings diverse stakeholders to the negotiating table and supports industry innovation, demonstrating how government and business can work together to meet U.S. carbon reduction goals."

During the Obama administration, the Department has finalized new efficiency standards for more than 40 household and commercial products, including commercial refrigeration equipment, electric motors, and fluorescent lamps, which will save consumers nearly $535 billion and cut greenhouse gas emissions by over 2 billion metric tons through 2030. Today's announcement brings the Energy Department more than two-thirds of the way to achieving the goal of reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons through standards set in the President's first and second terms. This is equivalent to cutting more than a year's carbon pollution from the entire U.S. electricity system.

These new commercial air conditioning and furnace standards will occur in two phases. The first phase will begin in 2018 and will deliver a 13 percent efficiency improvement in products. Five years later, an additional 15 percent increase in efficiency is required for new commercial units.

Commercial air conditioners, also known as rooftop units, are commonly used in low-rise buildings such as schools, restaurants, big-box stores and small office buildings. They cool about half of the total commercial floor space in the United States.

To finalize this standard, the Department convened 17 stakeholders, including major industry organizations, including the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute and Air Conditioning Contractors of America, along with some of the nation's leading manufacturers, utilities, and efficiency organizations. Manufacturing new products will provide skilled jobs for American workers, garnering the support of labor leaders. These standards also come after years of industry innovation.

The Energy Department's High Performance Rooftop Unit Challenge catalyzed several manufacturers to develop more efficient, cost-effective rooftop air conditioners. With these new units commercialized, the Department's Advanced Rooftop Unit Campaign has spurred businesses to upgrade over 40,000 rooftop units by providing them with technical assistance throughout the process. The new standards will ensure all businesses have access to energy-saving air conditioners that lower their utility bills for years to come.

Find more information on the energy efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners and warm air furnaces established today at