What is the minimum requirement of a federally mandated Energy Code?

In my last post on this topic I laid out the case for how we will eventually have a federally mandated energy code.  The next obvious questions:  What will be the basis of that code? And who will author the standard?  

This is the point where you get barraged with a confusing series of letters and numbers, so bear with me I’ll try to make this as painless as possible. At the end of the day you will understand that there are two main bodies that will drive the process. The first one is The International Code Council (ICC) which came into being in the mid-1990’s when three separate long-established code organizations, BOCA, SBC and UBC, consolidated their efforts into a unified international force. And the second is The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) with its affiliates IES and ANSI.

ICC publishes a series of 15 codes ranging from the International Building Code, to the International Fire Code to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).  The IEEC was first published in 2000.  Its current 2012 edition allows conformance to its prescriptive requirements or references ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010.  ICC documents have long been favored by state and local governments when adopting codes. ASHARE has established best practice standards for the design and construction of mechanical systems since the 1890’s. They have specifically interested in energy conservation since the oil crisis of the mid 1970’s when they published ASHRAE 90.  The most current edition is ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010. 

Now remember back to the recent financial crisis of 2009 and the Stimulus bill also known as the Americans Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  By accepting State Energy Program funding and submitting letters to the DOE assuring compliance with section 410 all states have committed to the following:

(2)  The state, or the applicable units of local government that have authority to adopt building codes, will implement the following:

  • (A) A residential building energy code (or codes) that meets or exceeds the most recent International Energy Conservation, or achieves equivalent or greater energy savings.
  • (B) A commercial building energy code (or codes) that meets or exceeds the ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1 – 2007 or achieves equivalent or greater energy savings
  • (C) A plan to achieve 90% compliance with the above energy codes within eight years.  This plan will include active training and enforcement programs and annual measurement of the rate of compliance.

If you read the last post you know that the DOE has subsequently made a determination that the States must also comply with ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010 by October 13, 2013. As of this writing seven  states have adopted this code, four of which have deferred compliance until a later date. It appears that most states are favoring attempting to adopt the ICC standard because it includes the residential code and references the ASHRAE standard which is more familiar to them.  For compliance with it commercial code requirements of ICC 2012 you may follow its prescriptive requirements or comply with ASHRAE 90.1 – 2010, but be careful.  Its prescriptive requirements are not equivalent to ASHRAE and therefore do not meet the letter of the ARRA mandate.

To add to your alphabet soup of letters and numbers you also want to pay careful attention to several other ASHRAE standards.  These are ASHRAE 189.1 – High Performance Buildings.  High Performance buildings are not the same as minimum energy saving standards.  This is the standard you’ll be referencing if you’re doing a LEED building.  You should also be looking at ASHRAE 62.1.  It has now been re-written in “Code adoptable” language and will likely soon be mandated.  ASHRAE 62.1 is a prerequisite for a LEED building.  If the Letters and numbers are driving you crazy, forget them and think of this like this:

  1. Energy Efficiency – I must do ASHRAE 90.1 or IECC 2012
  2. Green Building – I must do ASHRAE 189.1 – Remember an important part of a green building is health and well-being so ventilation and humidity control is as important as conserving resources.
  3. Indoor Air Quality – I must do ASHRAE 62.1 – In many ways increased ventilation can be juxtaposed to Energy Efficiency.  ASHRAE has spent a lot of time coordinating 90.1 and 62.1 so they are not exclusive of one another. They’ve revised calculations that have been used for years to make them more representative of a building’s energy use.  This adds complexity to both the design process and the building automation controls.  In the old days we designed fresh air intake requirements for the worst case.