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Building Codes - Can’t live with ‘em, Can’t live without ‘em

Written by: Marta Schantz

In the energy efficiency world, Building Codes are a double-edged sword. On the side, it’s great that building codes are pushing the buildings market into more and more efficient design and construction. On the other side, as Code keeps increasing, the amount of utility incentives available for the same technology continues to decrease. In the implantation world, we have to consider which projects “trigger” Code, which utility incentives will change upon each new state’s Code adoption, and how to continue working with the market to promote energy efficiency all the same. Building Codes - Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. At Waypoint, we make sure to stay on top of building codes related to energy efficiency: state-by-state, utility-by-utility, and building-by-building.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of building codes. States and local jurisdictions have different energy codes that they follow based on climate, geography, and other contributing factors. Though the two primary baseline codes for the private sector are standards published by ICC and ASHRAE:

  • Addresses energy efficiency on cost savings, reduced energy usage, conservation of natural resources and the impact of energy usage on the environment

  • Establishes minimum regulations for energy-efficient buildings using provisions

  • Internationally, code officials recognize the need for a modern, up-to-date energy conservation code addressing the design of energy-efficient building envelopes and installation of energy-efficient mechanical, lighting and power systems through requirements emphasizing performance

  • IECC meets these needs through model code regulations that result in the optimal utilization of fossil fuel and nondepletable resources

  • In use or adopted in 47 states, DC, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York City and Puerto Rico

ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1 Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings

  • Most recent edition is from 2016, prior to that was 2013

  • Standard 90.1 has been a benchmark for commercial building energy codes in the U.S. and a key basis for codes and standards around the world for 35+ years

  • Provides the minimum requirements for the energy efficient design of most buildings, details the min energy efficient requirements for the design and construction of new buildings and their systems, new portions of buildings and their systems, and new systems and equipment in existing buildings - as well as the criteria for determining compliance with these requirements

The International Code Council (ICC) develops codes and standards for construction of residential and commercial buildings. IECC is a subset of the ICC - IECC is a model energy code, but it is written in mandatory, enforceable language, so that state and local jurisdictions can adopt the model as their energy code. IECC references several ASHRAE Standards, in particular ASHRAE 90.1 for commercial building construction. ASHRAE 189.1 for the design of high-performance green buildings is another important standard, which sets the foundation for green buildings by addressing site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building's impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources. The International green Construction Code (IgCC), part of the ICC, the first model code focused on new and existing commercial buildings addressing affordable green building design and performance, and includes ASHRAE 189.1 as an alternative path of compliance. In California there’s an entirely separate code, Title 24, the California Building Standards Code which regulates the construction of buildings in the state.

But how do you navigate between the different codes and decide on which ones to abide by? Here’s a question: Say you have an office tenant improvement project in Boston that is large enough to trigger code… what do you have to do about plug load efficiency? The answer is complicated: If you are following ASHRAE 90.1, then 50% of outlets must be controlled. If you are following IECC for alternative compliance, there’s no reference of plug load efficiency at all so you don’t have any plug load efficiency requirements.

In the end, it depends on what Code your project is following, what Codes are required in that jurisdiction, and whether the project triggers code. Luckily, Waypoint is able to help with these types of questions. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Waypoint team at with questions about utility incentives, efficiency projects triggering code, or anything in between. We love seeing the market move forward with higher efficiency codes, and we are here to help guide our utility and real estate partners through the process.


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