Embodied Carbon

Embodied Carbon in Buildings and Building Materials

“Buildings are currently responsible for 39% of global energy related carbon emissions: 28% from operational emissions, from energy needed to heat, cool and power them, and the remaining 11% from materials and construction [also known as embodied carbon].

Towards the middle of the century, as the world’s population approaches 10 billion, the global building stock is expected to double in size. Carbon emissions released before the built asset is used, referred to as ‘upfront carbon’ [or ‘embodied carbon’], will be responsible for half of the entire carbon footprint of new construction between now and 2050, threatening to consume a large part of our remaining carbon budget.“

- World Green Building Council

Getting Started

Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions released during the extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction and end-of-life phases of buildings; it accounts for around 11 percent of all global carbon emissions. Embodied carbon may refer to the embodied carbon of a whole building or the embodied carbon of a single building material.  Often referred to as the hidden carbon impact of the buildings and construction sector, embodied carbon’s impact on global carbon emissions presents a significant opportunity for jurisdictions to drastically and quickly curb global carbon emissions by adopting policies that address embodied carbon. Additionally, the World Green Building Council theorizes that “if the building and construction sector were to drastically shift demand towards low carbon options for [the most carbon intensive materials: concrete, steel and aluminum], this would require a transformation in the manufacturing processes of the supply chain. This would affect the total emissions for those materials streams and have an enormous impact on emissions mostly attributed to other sectors through these three materials alone. The total potential impact, therefore, of the buildings and construction sector, is far greater.”

Unlike operational carbon emissions, which can be reduced over time with building energy efficiency renovations and the use of renewable energy, embodied carbon emissions are comprised of (1) one-time emissions from construction material extraction, manufacturing, and transportation; and (2) the one-time emissions from the construction of a building, and they cannot be taken back once emitted.

The building sector is well-positioned to have a significant impact on emissions reductions, given the impact of embodied carbon on global carbon emissions, and the limited attention that these sources of emissions have had to date. Building design teams that seek to minimize both operational and embodied carbon emissions can significantly reduce their overall carbon footprint, low carbon alternatives exist today. Predominant building materials like concrete, steel, wood, and insulation have high-impact potential for emissions reductions, and in some cases, there are opportunities for carbon sequestration in these and other materials. Secondly, consideration of lower emission products challenges many existing building practices and industrial norms. Not unlike the early years of green building, the subject of embodied carbon in the built environment is relatively new, and dynamic, and there is not yet industry consensus.

Operational Carbon versus Embodied Carbon

Evolution of the energy codes over the last three decades has offered a significant decrease in operational carbon emissions. Only recently has more information become available to help builders and designers make decisions regarding reducing embodied carbon. Unlike operational carbon emissions which can be reduced over time with building energy efficiency retrofits, future electrification of HVAC and the addition of renewable energy, embodied carbon emissions are locked in place once the building is built.

Including embodied carbon in the suite of policies, building codes and design choices is another tool for jurisdictions to address climate impact of the built environment.

 The American Institute of Architects has identified 10 steps that can be taken to reduce embodied carbon.

  1. Reuse buildings instead of constructing new ones.
  2. Use low carbon concrete mixes.
  3. Limit carbon intensive materials.
  4. Choose lower carbon alternatives.
  5. Choose carbon sequestering materials.
  6. Reuse materials.
  7. Use high-recycled content materials.
  8. Maximize structural efficiency.
  9. Use fewer finish materials.
  10. Minimize waste.

LEED, the International Green Construction Code, and Living Future are helping to build market awareness of these material choices and create a market for beneficial products. In addition,  jurisdictions can have a significant impact through incorporating embodied carbon policies into and alongside codes and standards.

“Building elements such as foundations, frames and other forms of superstructure often represent the biggest contribution to embodied carbon, not least because of the large volumes of material they use. But, additionally, these elements often contain carbon intensive load bearing structural materials such as steel, concrete and masonry. Facades may also contribute significantly if they utilize large amounts of aluminium and glass, both of which have carbon intensive production processes.”

  • Concrete is the most widely used construction material throughout the world and it’s responsible for 6-11% of global CO2 emissions. Using less cement in the concrete mix, whilst maintaining its structural integrity, is the most effective way to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete. Design teams can also be incentivized to use less concrete in many structures.
  • For steel, the embodied carbon impact can differ based on the manufacturing process used. Most of the current global steel production is manufactured using a basic oxygen furnace (BOFs) production method. Under this method 37% of materials are recycled content. Whereas as electric arc furnaces (EAFs) can use up to 100% recycled material without compromising metallurgical properties. Furthermore, since EAFs are powered by electricity there is potential for this manufacturing process to further reduce emissions when powered by renewable energy.
  • Wood naturally sequesters carbon while growing and will continue to store carbon when used in construction. Using reclaimed wood and specifying use of wood from sustainably managed forests is the best way to reduce embodied carbon emissions from wood harvesting. Where sustainably harvested wood is used as a structural alternative to steel or other more emissions intensive products it reduces embodied carbon. This has led to growing interest in mass timber framed buildings and structural products such as cross-laminated timber, that have significant potential economic and emissions benefits over more traditional steel-framed commercial buildings.
  • Insulation can contribute significantly to a building’s embodied carbon or alternatively help to sequester carbon depending on the materials used. When selecting insulation, thermal operational energy considerations should be balanced with an awareness of embodied carbon impacts and targets.

This is just a subset of building materials that have low-carbon alternatives. The current challenge is accurately quantifying the impact of reducing embodied carbon. However, this will only become easier as awareness grows throughout the industry and more industry practitioners decide to focus on the embodied carbon impact of their buildings.

Determining the Embodied Carbon of Building Materials and Products

Accurately quantifying the embodied carbon or CO2 equivalent emissions associated with a building material’s “cradle to grave” footprint is challenging, but becoming increasingly more accessible and affordable. Three tools are used to determine the embodied carbon: the Product Category Rule (PCR), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), and Environmental Product Declaration (EPD).  

Product Category Rule.  The PCR sets up the rules or criteria by which a specific building material or product type is evaluated regarding its environmental impacts.  These criteria may include things like the market location, or rules for averaging. The lack of standardized methodology in developing PCRs has resulted in incomparable environmental claims  and has reduced the overall credibility of the LCA-based product claims for decision making.

Life Cycle Assessment. Once a PCR has been developed an LCA is performed and a report of the results is produced.   An LCA is a science-based holistic methodology that seeks to answer the question of “how sustainable is a product, building, or process?” so that a project team may identify the “environmental hotspots” of a building with respect to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact, and make informed design decisions that minimize the environmental impact of the building.   An LCA seeks to provide transparency about the environmental impact of a building project over its lifetime from the extraction of materials for manufacturing, to transportation, construction, operations, and building’s end-of-life. The process of performing an LCA involves a lot of data gathering, computer modeling and documentation.   The software used to model the results pulls raw material data from one of a few existing databases.  It should be noted that there are differences in the databases and software that will produce different results for the same product.  LCAs are  detailed and often contain proprietary product formulation or manufacturing information; they are rarely released publicly.

Environment Product Declaration. The EPD is provided by a product manufacturer or industry.  A third-party will take the LCA and summarize the important information in the EPD.  Depending on how the LCA was conducted, an EPD may provide averaged industry wide information, averaged product family information, or specific product information. EPD development is standardized by ISO 14025, Environmental Labels and Declarations, Type III Environmental Declarations, Principles and Procedures. Before an EPD can be produced, a Product Category Rule (PCR) needs to be created. EPDs do not include this proprietary information and are typically available on public websites.

Comparisons of EPD data, like carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are only reliable when they have used the same PCR and LCA software and assumptions.  Changes in versions of software and PCRs can have a significant impact on the results. Evaluating both the embodied and operational carbon impacts of a building project should be viewed as a holistic process. There may be times when project goals conflict with one another and compromises will need to be made. For instance, there are a variety of other criteria that must also be considered during project development such as durability, fire safety, structural safety and moisture management.  It is imperative that policy makers and users understand the limitations of available data.

Embodied Carbon Policy Case Study: City of Vancouver, British Columbia

“Vancouver has a goal to achieve a 40% reduction in embodied carbon from construction by 2030 [compared to 2018 levels]. As part of this strategy, the City of Vancouver will use its policy and regulation, public procurement, networks and influence to create a more sustainable way of building in the city. With a concerted effort, the City can transform how buildings are built, what they are made of, and the impacts of those materials before, during, and after a building is used. Carbon pollution can be significantly reduced while also improving health, equity and waste outcomes from construction and its materials.”

The city has adopted four actions, each with the goal of transforming different parts of the construction sector to achieve the goal.  The four actions are summarized as follows.  Detail can be found in Appendix K of the Vancouver Climate Emergency Action Plan[2].

  • Change the Rules: Policy and Regulation “It’s only permitted to build low-carbon buildings” (section 4.1)
  • Change the Market: Remove Barriers and Provide Incentives “It pays to build low-carbon buildings” (section 4.2)
  • Change the Culture: Capacity Building and Industry Transformation “Our knowledge, tools, networks, and culture support low-carbon buildings” (section 4.3)
  • Change the Context: Complimentary Strategies and Actions “The construction ecosystem enables and encourages low-carbon buildings” (Section 4.4)


There are several resources and tools available to help guide users when making decisions about building materials and products.  When using these tools and resources, it is highly recommended that the user become familiar with the methodologies used to develop them and be mindful that the information contained in some tools may not be comparable to another tool. Visit the International Code Council energy resources page for more information.

Net Zero Energy

Net Zero Energy - Building Operation Decarbonization

The US Department of Energy defines a zero-energy building as “an energy-efficient building where, on a source energy basis, the actual annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported energy.” Zero energy buildings typically combine energy efficiency and renewable energy in a building to result in net zero energy consumption over the course of a year.

The 2021 IECC includes Zero Code appendices for both residential and commercial buildings. The residential Zero Code appendix is based on the Energy Rating Index (ERI) path of the code. It requires more efficiency than is required in the base code and requires enough onsite or offsite renewable energy production to achieve an ERI score of zero. Renewable energy compliance may happen through a combination of onsite power production, energy generated through community renewable energy facilities, and renewable energy purchase contracts or leases.

The commercial Zero Code appendix is based on the Architecture 2030 ZERO Code, which requires a building to meet the minimum code requirements plus enough on-site or off-site renewable energy to compensate for all the energy anticipated to be consumed by the building.

These appendices focus on the energy use of the building, not the carbon emissions from its energy use. A zero-energy building may still have significant carbon emissions if it utilizes fossil fuels (including natural gas) for space heating, water heating, cooking, or clothes drying.


Operational Energy Use

When energy codes mandate higher-performing systems, these quickly evolve from being perceived as risky and unfamiliar special-order systems to being business as usual, at which point the costs moderate. This happens because suppliers, design teams and builders start competing for market share under the new rules, and they develop smarter, more economical means to comply.

To minimize overall energy, use long-term, the code development priority “stacking order” should be based on key strategies with the greatest direct impact on energy consumption:

  • Optimize Envelope
  • System Efficiency
  • Controls
  • Renewable and Recovered Energy

The additional construction cost of high-performance buildings is typically repaid many times over during the life of the building through reduced utility bills. A balance point should be defined to determine the best investment balance point between more efficient systems and more renewables, recognizing that the cost of each continues to fall over time. A second and perhaps more elusive balance point should be selected between on-site and off-site renewable energy generation.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy, defined in the energy code as the “energy derived from solar radiation, wind, waves, tides, landfill gas, biogas, biomass or the internal heat of the earth,” emits little or no carbon. Achieving a zero energy or a zero-carbon building requires a combination of energy efficiency measures to reduce the building’s load, with remaining end uses met using on-site or off-site renewable energy. The most common type of on-site renewable energy are solar photovoltaic panels. Off-site options can include community renewable energy facilities, power purchase agreements, or other mechanisms enabled by state or local laws and utility policies. The electricity grid, itself, is increasingly powered with renewable energy. However, the specific grid mix varies widely by location. Jurisdictions will need to determine the amount and type of renewable energy appropriate for buildings in their climate zone and grid mix. California, for example, includes a requirement in Title 24, Part 6 that requires solar photovoltaic systems on most new homes.

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) represent the “environmental attributes” of energy production from solar or wind, but by themselves are not the equivalent of building and owning a rooftop solar array. Ideally, one would be able to own shares of some large-scale solar array or wind farm and have the energy produced there be treated just as one’s own rooftop solar. Such an arrangement does exist in “community solar” installations, but these are not widely available, especially at large scale.

Low-carbon buildings, especially those which are fully electrified, must be able to shift loads through demand responsiveness, to ensure that functions that draw a relatively large load like storage water heating, building preheating or precooling, or electric vehicle charging, can be done during times when demand is lower on the grid, or when the grid is powered by lower-carbon energy.

Reach Codes

Advanced energy codes and regulations, often known as “stretch codes” or “reach codes,” provide a means to advance energy efficiency in a jurisdiction.  They are a tool to allow more progressive cities and counties with ambitious climate goals to move forward, without having to drag the more conservative parts of the state along. As these stretch code cities demonstrate the constructability and affordability of higher-performance buildings, statewide adoption of such rules is facilitated, generating a virtuous cycle. Notable examples include:

The NYStretch Energy Code is developed by the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Some municipalities, such as Beacon and Hastings on Hudson in New York State, have gone one step further by adopting the advanced model energy code that is more stringent than the State-adopted Energy Code.

The Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code has now been adopted by most of the jurisdictions in that state, providing a much higher level of energy efficiency than is provided by the base code. As most construction now meets the stretch code provisions, further upgrades to the base code may become less problematic for designer teams and contractors.

Washington state has one of the more progressive codes in the country, and the City of Seattle maintains a code that is higher performing still. Seattle’s provisions are regularly adopted by the state in subsequent code cycles.

Boulder, Colorado, is determined to reach a zero-energy code by 2031 and requires buildings over 500,000 square feet to use energy modeling and achieve progressively more stringent efficiency targets. https://bouldercolorado.gov/plan-develop/energy-conservation-codes

California has a well-developed “reach code” program, with dozens of cities and counties participating. This includes not only energy efficiency, but separate paths for advanced code requirements in electrification, renewables, process loads, water use, and electric readiness.

Advanced Codes with a Path Forward

Both Toronto and Vancouver have developed code structures that are strategically moving towards net zero. These are performance-based standards, meaning that they are based purely on energy modeling results rather than imposing specific requirements for equipment or envelope assemblies.

Whereas most North American performance-based energy codes are focused only on overall energy use, Toronto (and Vancouver) codes require compliance with three metrics: TEUI, TEDI and GHGI.

  • TEUI – Total Energy Use Intensity – overall annual energy use, in kWh per unit of floor area
  • TEDI – Thermal Energy Demand Intensity – annual space heating energy, in kWh per unit of floor area.
  • GHGI – GreenHouse Gas Intensity – annual carbon emissions per unit of floor area.

Version 3 of the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) is Toronto’s 2019 step towards a 2030 zero-energy code. Developers of the most common building types can choose either the standard Tier 1 code or else a Tier 2 that’s a 20 – 30% improvement and provides a hefty partial refund of development fees. (15% of projects in the last code version chose the Tier 2 path.)  The current Tier 2 will then become Tier 1 for the next code cycle, and in fact Tiers 3 and 4 have also been defined to flesh out the remaining steps to Toronto’s 2030 zero energy standard

In addition, the TGS includes several prescriptive requirements which are important for ensuring long-term real-world energy performance but can’t be evaluated by using energy modeling. These include

  • Solar readiness
  • District energy connection readiness
  • Air tightness testing
  • Building commissioning
  • Sub-metering
  • Building labeling and disclosure

While the Toronto system is among the most comprehensive and well-vetted of energy code pathways, it is based entirely on energy modeling, which is notoriously over-optimistic when predicting the energy use of highly efficient buildings. Also, it only applies to a handful of specific building types: office, multifamily, retail and education, since high process load buildings (lab, hospital, restaurant, etc.) don’t lend themselves to hard energy use targets. On the other hand, such performance codes reward efficient design choices for building form, orientation and other aspects that would be difficult to pin down in a prescriptive code.

Workforce Development

Workforce Development for Energy Code Enforcement

Local governments across the United States are increasingly enacting policies and offering programs to drive energy savings, but the success of these activities is inextricably linked to a strong, capable energy efficiency workforce. To ensure that trained workers are available to capitalize on efficiency investments, local governments can set workforce development goals, coordinate training programs, and provide equal access to opportunities to workers and businesses. They can also institute equity-focused energy efficiency workforce development programs and targets to extend these benefits to underserved community members, according to the research report, "Through the Local Government Lens: Developing the Energy Efficiency Workforce."

View the topics below, and visit the model policy and resource page for more information.

Getting Started

Workforce development programs provide an avenue to ensure the existence of a future and present skilled workforce.  A key component of achieving energy efficient and low carbon buildings is having a robust building code workforce. Regardless of the version of the code, or incentive program adopted, energy savings and carbon reductions will not be realized without professional enforcement. As the building systems and codes advance to include new and innovative technologies, and achievement of low carbon goals are further integrated into the model codes, the professionals responsible for adoption, implementation and  compliance must have the knowledge and skillset required to advance with them. Establishing a diverse and comprehensive workforce will allow jurisdictions to better prepare for the implementation of modern and innovative technologies and advanced codes.

Prior to establishing a workforce development plan, it is important to analyze the current landscape of the existing workforce, what educational programs are available, and whether they provide education, certification or the degree necessary to begin a career. Determine how the current code professionals integrate training and education into their job. With over 25 areas of discipline to choose from in the building code sector, it is important to determine the current needs of the jurisdiction and develop a specific plan for outreach and education around those needs. It is also helpful to collaborate with neighboring jurisdictions to identify areas of overlap and peer to peer education opportunities. It is important to consider the current economic situation of the AHJ, the availability of the current staff to participate in educational opportunities and the gaps in education.

A career in the code professional industry requires, at a minimum, a high-school diploma or equivalent. Depending on the area of discipline, additional requirements can vary across states and jurisdictions. Individuals interested in the code profession should consult the ICC website for guidance and resources on careers in code enforcement  as well as education, certification options and resources for other areas of discipline.

Existing Workforce

While keeping an eye on the development of a new workforce is necessary, the current workforce must also be provided with the tools and educational opportunities needed to keep current with modern technologies and updated codes.

The ICC’s Major Jurisdictions Committee (MJC) coordinates the compilation of lessons learned from around the country through publication of the Best Practices guide. Code professionals do not consistently have the luxury of stepping away from the daily requirements of their jobs to participate in educational workshops or seminars, creating a gap in education as well as a lack of awareness of modern and innovative technologies, and updated codes. Discovering the balance between providing quality service to the communities and arming the code professionals with the knowledge needed is a delicate act.

Next Generation

In 2014 the ICC and the National Institute of Building Science (NIBS) partnered on a study to understand what the future of the code profession looked like. During this study it was discovered that about 85 percent of the current code professional workforce was over the age of 45 and many were on the verge of retirement. With most of the profession getting closer to retirement, it is necessary that the younger generation be educated about the industry and the many possibilities for a rewarding career.

Since it is expected that within a finite amount of time the current building professionals will be retiring, taking their institutional knowledge with them; it is glaringly obvious that investing in the future workforce now is critical to making the transition seamless. Integrating code specific curriculum into an existing STEM or STEAM program within a K-12 school district would provide exposure at any earlier age allowing for the younger generation to become familiar with the profession and start thinking about it as a career option. Another path could be to develop and implement a code curriculum in local community colleges providing an avenue to increase educational opportunities and potentially aiding in career placement.

Establishing a comprehensive suite of activities designed to educate and excite K-12 students, can be a way for jurisdictions to begin exposure of the profession to the younger generation. Scholarships, high school signing days, career day booths, presentations from local code professionals, and recognition from community leadership are examples of such activities. These activities could complement each other or stand alone as individual events.

Training and education can be impactful, and several models are available including focused issue-based training, site education, circuit riders and more traditional broad-based code training.  The most effective training provides audience-specific delivery targeted to its needs; technical assistance to key stakeholders; and circuit rider programs to ensure that the building, design and enforcement industry has the required resources to design, build and enforce energy codes.

Innovation and Best Practices

Jurisdictions can learn from peers through workshops, case studies and best practices in order to advance the knowledge and skillset of the existing workforce. There are multiple training opportunities and certification programs that can be found within the resources section of the ICC website. Below are two innovative strategies for expanding the energy code workforce.

The Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC), in partnership with the Illinois EPA Office of Energy, has developed an Energy Code Training Program which offers workshops, webinars, online trainings, resources and technical support to the industry. Currently, SEDAC in partnership with the State of Hawaii and the State of Nevada are undergoing a pilot program that incorporates energy code training at the community college level. The program, if successful, will be a template for other states and jurisdictions to expand the code profession workforce. This is one example of a way to get new professionals interested and knowledgeable on energy codes, thus developing the future workforce.

To ensure a robust pool of qualified candidates are ready to step into the shoes of the current building professionals, the Building Officials Association of Texas (BOAT) has facilitated Career Development Days as part of their annual conference since 2017. "These full-day workshops invite young professionals preparing to enter the workforce to participate in educational activities and network with industry leaders in an effort to demonstrate the tremendous opportunities associated with a career in the code enforcement industry."


Visit the International Code Council energy resources page for more information.

Distributed Energy Resources

Distributed Energy Resources

Clean-energy, including on-site renewables, energy storage and energy-efficient technologies, such as electric vehicles, separately and together are increasingly being adopted to support energy efficiency and decarbonization goals.  As these technologies become more prevalent on the customer side of the meter, the energy distribution system must evolve to account for them in the supply and demand equation. Integration of these technologies into the electrical grid is critical to ensure that utilities can continue to operate the grid in a safe, reliable and cost-effective manner. View the topics below, and visit the model policy and resource page for more information.

Getting Started

Distributed Energy Resources (DER) complement regional power plant and fossil fuel distribution systems by providing local points where electricity is generated, waste heat is recaptured and/or excess energy is stored for later use. DER or virtual power plants can interact productively with the regional electrical grid by reducing overall loads and shifting loads from peak to off-peak hours. This allows regional generating systems to reduce fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions, especially when compared to carbon-intensive, highly-polluting peaker plants.

Standby diesel generators, microturbines and other electric generation technologies with lower efficiency and higher emissions than central station power plants can be classified as DER. For the purposes of this document, however, and in the interest of reducing carbon emissions, the focus is placed on DER derived from renewable sources. DER can contribute to the resiliency and reliability of the grid by providing local generation and storage that could be deployed and utilized during failures in portions of the distribution line. Communities with lower system stability and reliability can particularly benefit from the deployment of robust DER systems in key priority locations.

During a two-month period in 2020, communities in Louisiana experienced three hurricanes resulting in a loss of power for over one million people and 73 inoperable sewage stations. Restoring power took weeks. Even short-term power outages can have serious health implications for medically vulnerable persons who rely on electric medical equipment. Recommendations to improve the reliability of the grid included investment in virtual power plants, incentivizing solar+storage in community facilities that function as shelters, and providing equity to environmental justice communities.

DER technology is relatively new and rapidly evolving. Policies aiming to encourage the use of DER technology should be flexible enough to account for innovation. Policies should also be performance-driven, emphasizing goals for carbon reduction and energy efficiency over prescriptive language or strict adherence to specific technologies.

Demand-responsiveness typically requires an agreement between a building owner and the local utility but can also be set up independently by a building owner as a means of reducing power usage, and thus high electrical rates, during peak hours.

A modernized grid that is resilient, reliable and flexible is based on two key elements: front-of-the-meter and behind-the-meter components. The front-of-the-meter component involves the integration of DER into the utility power grid. The behind-the-meter component requires building-to-grid integration in the form of an information loop between buildings and the grid that, at a minimum, tracks patterns of energy production (if any) and consumption.  Buildings account for 75 percent of electricity consumption in the US;[ii] a policy that does not include building performance or building-grid interaction has limited potential to reach energy-efficiency goals.

Multiple fundamental decisions must be made as building-to-grid integration policies are developed. Before consideration of renewable energy or other demand response strategies, a foundational step should be a careful analysis to determine whether all available passive design strategies  and energy efficiency measures have been optimized. Some considerations are listed below as a starting point for DER policy development.

DER policies might be documented in or integrated with codes such as:

  • Building Codes
  • Electrical Codes
  • Fire Codes
  • Energy Conservation Codes
  • Land Use Codes

The policies might be applicable to:

  • New construction projects
  • Major alterations
  • Existing buildings

Within each of those project categories, policies may be applied to building types:

  • Single-family
  • Multifamily
  • Commercial
  • Industrial

Policies may also be implemented for building of a given size:

  • All buildings
  • Buildings over 2,500 square feet
  • Buildings over 20,000 square feet

The minimum required capacity of on-site or off-site zero-carbon energy systems could be based on:

  • Typical energy use intensity for the building type (schools and office buildings may require less, while hospitals may require more. Utility bill records could provide use data.)
  • Available roof area
  • Building floor area

Decisions must be made regarding whether DER policies will include sector-specific targets such as DER deployment in the transportation, industrial, commercial and residential sectors. Where investments and incentives are being proposed for the use of DER technologies, policies may also set targets for a portion of the sources being directed to those specific sectors and/or to disadvantaged communities, consistent with the municipality’s environmental justice goals. Decisions must also be made regarding whether “EV ready,” “renewable ready” (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, etc.) or “demand response readiness” should be required for new construction, to facilitate future installation or expansion of such systems.

Scalable DER Power Technologies

Scalable technologies include both on-site generation resources and off-site renewable alternatives.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays are the most common form of distributed renewable energy. Costs for PV systems have fallen drastically over the years, and continue to fall, while their efficiency at converting incoming solar rays to electricity improves. PV installation is most feasible and cost-effective when coordinated with new construction. When installation during construction is not an option, the next best choice is solar readiness (Appendices CB and RB of the 2021 IECC). Given the right solar orientation, systems are commonly installed on existing roofs or on-ground where land is available.

Solar thermal arrays for generating hot water are another possibility for on-site renewables. Once the on-site storage tanks are sufficiently heated, however, there is generally no further productive use for the excess solar energy, as opposed to PV arrays which can either store on-site or export excess electricity out to the grid. While the technology of the systems is relatively simple and time-tested, the system’s pumps, exterior piping and controls require ongoing maintenance. The cost of long-term maintenance needs to be considered in the pay-back analysis.

Building-mounted wind turbine generators are available in several varieties. Their suitability for a particular site and a payback that includes maintenance need to be carefully evaluated.

Ground source heat pumps transfer heat from one area to another and capitalize on the relatively constant temperatures a few feet below the earth’s surface to capture heat during the winter and to dissipate heat during the summer. Air source heat pumps perform a similar function and are less expensive, but their efficiency is 25 to 50 percent lower than that of ground source heat pumps. One alternative to achieve higher efficiency and lower cost is a dual-source heat pump.

On-site energy generation goals can also be coupled with a jurisdiction’s environmental justice goals. The Energy Trust of Oregon was one of the recipients of the 2020 State Leadership in Clean Energy Awards for their Inclusive Innovation Project. The project makes solar energy generation affordable and accessible to low income, rural, and traditionally under-served communities.

Where a building and its site lack sufficient wind, solar exposure or space for the installation of on-site renewables, as is the case with some slender buildings or buildings with heavy process loads, some off-site source of renewable energy might be desired or required by local policies or regulations. The ownership and billing credit for off-site generation requires the cooperation of a local utility. The purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs) is another alternative, but it can be challenging as it is often unclear whether such purchases result directly in the construction of new renewable energy resources, and how far into the future that renewable energy benefit might extend. Community solar programs provide an attractive option in those areas where such programs are available. At the utility level, offshore wind generation is an alternative for coastal states. Large scale offshore wind projects have been implemented in New York State as part of the state’s clean energy and public health goals.

EV Infrastructure 

EVs have an important role to play in strategies for decarbonization and reduction of harmful emissions. One of the barriers to successfully reaching EV goals is range anxiety, or the fear that an EV will have insufficient charge to reach a charging station. At the larger scale, infrastructure investment and incentives can be implemented to provide charging stations at existing service stations, parking lots and along public ways. At the building scale, EV charging at buildings and building sites can be required as part of decarbonization and energy-efficient policies; cities such as New York City already do so. Since the 2016 version, the California Green Building Standard (CALGreen), has required EV readiness for residential and commercial buildings as part of the state’s Zero-emission Vehicles Action Plan. Vehicle batteries provide one convenient option for storage and use of excess renewable energy generation, either directly to plugged-in vehicles or indirectly into dedicated energy storage. This avoids the losses that occur with DC to AC power conversion.

Energy Storage 

By large, the most accessible forms of renewable energy are intermittent by nature because solar energy is only available during daylight hours and wind speed is variable. Those hours don’t always coincide with the hours of peak energy demand. A school or office building might be empty on a sunny weekend afternoon but bustling early on a winter morning with little or no sun. Excess energy could be fed into the grid where the utility offers net-metering options. This would reduce the overall cost of energy for the property owner or operator; however, it does not contribute to the reduction of peak demand, nor does it improve resiliency or reliability during an outage. As an alternative, the excess energy could be stored in an Energy Storage System (ESS) for later use or converted to thermal energy. The logical synergies between solar energy generation and energy storage, often referred to as Solar+Storage, also extend to the reduction of peak demand loads.

A heat pump water heater can efficiently convert solar energy to hot water for use that same evening or the following morning, and excess solar energy can be used to freeze ice storage for the following day’s cooling. Useful heat can also be recaptured from drain water or exhaust air, either to be used immediately or stored for later use. The use of such systems takes stress off the grid during peak events, reduces demand charges, and reduces overall energy use and carbon emissions.

Multiple energy storage technologies have been developed and are currently available; other emerging technologies are in different stages of development. The most common type of ESS consists of lithium-ion batteries arranged on a rack. This is the same battery technology used in small electronics and in electric vehicles. Due to the popularity of electric vehicles, the cost of lithium-ion batteries is in decline.

One example of efficient use of energy generated from on-site resources, such as PV panels, produces energy during the hours of peak production, stores it in an ESS, then transfers that energy onto the battery of an EV for use the following day. ESS has also been used successfully in remote areas where access to the grid is impractical. One such location is the Energy Conservation Management Division in Cimarron, New Mexico, a fire command center for the state’s northwestern region.


Visit the International Code Council energy resources page for more information.

Net Zero Energy and Decarbonization Toolkit


We are in the final phases of development of the Net Zero Energy and Decarbonization toolkit! This is a resource for states, tribes, local jurisdictions, and other organizations interested in developing and implementing advanced energy efficiency and carbon reduction goals. We are currently integrating new information and resources as they become available.


Net Zero and Decarbonization Contact Information

Dave Walls
Vice President
Business Initiatives
3060 Saturn St #100,
Brea, CA 92821
+(202) 730-3978 or +(888) 422-7233, ext. 6239


Energy Resources and Model Policies

Resources and Model Policies

We are in the final phases of development of the energy and decarbonization resource database.  States, local jurisdictions, and organizations across the country have demonstrated leadership in developing tools for implementing the energy code, and programs and policies that both encourage and require advanced energy efficiency and carbon reduction. The laws and regulations behind these programs and policies can help other states and jurisdictions establish unique policies to address their particular needs.

Resources and model policies for  building energy efficiency and decarbonization have been identified in the following categories:

Energy Code Compliance View resources and sample policies

Resources for energy code compliance include guidance on getting started whether it is a new approach to enforcing the currently adopted code, or gearing up to enforce a newly adopted code; top code issues according to nationwide FAQ, and best practices for training and education. More information on compliance.

Advanced Building Energy Policies and Resources View resources and sample policies

Exceeding the code policies require or encourage commercial and residential buildings to exceed the minimum code adopted by a state or jurisdiction. These policies may require that all projects achieve the same percentage of efficiency over the state or model energy code or that a particular project achieve an efficiency level over the adopted code. More information on advanced energy efficiency.

Embodied Carbon Policies and Resources View resources and sample policies

Embodied carbon emissions from the building and construction contribute to 11% to global climate emissions through (1) one-time emissions from construction material extraction, manufacturing, and transportation; and (2) the one-time emissions from the construction of a building.  Adopting policies that address embodied carbon through construction material selection, presents a massive opportunity for a jurisdiction to drastically cut their global carbon emissions.  This chapter lays out a framework for thinking about embodied carbon in the context of net-zero energy buildings and introduces some of the most current research and policies. More information on embodied carbon.

Distributed Energy/Electric Vehicles/Energy Storage View resources and sample policies

Clean-energy, including onsite renewables, energy storage, and energy-efficient technologies, such as electric vehicles, separately and together are increasingly being adopted to support energy efficiency.  As they become more prevalent on the customer side of the meter, the distribution system must evolve to account for these technologies in the supply and demand equation. Integration of these technologies into the electrical grid is critical to ensure that utilities can continue to operate the grid in a safe, reliable, and cost-effective manner. More information on distributed energy. 

Operations and Maintenance Example policies to come

A well-run O&M program should conserve energy and water and be resource efficient, while meeting the comfort, health, and safety requirements of the building occupants. Effective O&M is one of the most cost-effective methods for ensuring reliability, safety, and energy efficiency. Inadequate maintenance of energy-using systems is a major cause of energy waste. Uninsulated lines, maladjusted or inoperable controls, and other losses from poor maintenance are often considerable. Good maintenance practices can generate substantial energy savings and should be considered a resource. Moreover, improvements to facility maintenance programs can often be accomplished immediately and at a relatively low cost. – Source FEMP O&M Best Practices Guide, Release 3.0

Implementation Workforce View resources and sample policies

Local governments across the United States are increasingly enacting policies and offering programs to drive energy savings, but the success of these activities is inextricably linked to a strong, capable energy efficiency workforce. To ensure that trained workers are available to capitalize on efficiency investments, local governments can set workforce development goals, coordinate training programs, and provide equal access to opportunities to workers and businesses. They can also institute equity-focused energy efficiency workforce development programs and targets to extend these benefits to underserved community members, according to the research report, "Through the Local Government Lens: Developing the Energy Efficiency Workforce."  More information on workforce.

IECC Compliance

IECC Compliance and Enforcement

Implementation of the Model Energy Code is foundational to achieving energy savings and reductions on GHG emissions across building stock, both residential and commercial. The first step is adoption of the most recent model energy code, followed by training and full implementation of the adopted code, and moving forward with periodic adoption and implementation of increasingly stringent codes.

According to the US Department of Energy, to date the model energy codes for residential and commercial buildings are projected to save (cumulative 2010-2040).

  • $126 billion energy cost savings
  • 841 MMT of avoided CO2 emissions
  • 82 quads of primary energy

These savings equate to the annual emissions of:

  • 177 million passenger vehicles
  • 245 coal power plants
  • 89 million homes

Getting Started

Although there is significant evidence of the value of energy code implementation, studies also show millions of dollars of untapped energy savings in states across the country.[i]

Assessing the current construction practices, establishing compliance and enforcement goals, and accessing intake plan review inspection tools are the first steps to successful compliance and enforcement.

The following information is provided to support jurisdictions in enforcement of the energy code.  Compliance tools are resources are found here.

Identify Current Construction Practices and Enforcement Practices

Assessing current practices can identify training needs and provide local evidence to the value of more comprehensive enforcement.

Quantitative Assessment

A quantitative assessment of the building stock provides a baseline of current construction practices. The assessment not only captures the value of untapped code compliance, but it will also provide a tool for measuring improvement.  Two significant and related methodologies have been established for providing quantitative assessments.  The current Building Energy Codes Program (BECP) Single-family Residential Field Study Protocol is appropriate for application for state or regional assessments or residential construction.

The methodology is based on key items identified as having the most significant direct impact on energy savings in single-family households. Efficiency measures are observed as installed in actual homes over a representative sample of households.  The resulting findings depict baseline construction trends and related energy-efficiency potential for a given state and help identify areas for further intervention, commonly through education and training initiatives.

The DOE’s commercial field study methodology is capable of determining, for a given sample of buildings, how much energy cost savings could potentially be gained through better compliance with the code. Stay up to date on reports and tools from the BECP by visiting their website.

The Institute for Market Transformation’s (IMT) City Energy Project has among their tools the Assessment Methodology for Commercial Building Code Compliance in Medium to Large Cities.  While it is based on the DOE methodology, it specifically provides a four-step process specifically for use within jurisdictions and includes both residential and commercial buildings. Such an assessment can be internally generated by the organization or the assessment can be completed by an outside contractor.

Evaluations will answer questions, such as:

  • What types of buildings are being built and renovated in my jurisdiction? What are the predominate ages and/or system types?
  • How well is the energy code currently implemented at construction?
  • What are the current processes in place to evaluate energy code compliance?
  • Who is evaluating energy code compliance at intake, permit, construction and prior to certificate of occupancy?
  • What areas of the energy code is the jurisdiction having trouble implementing? Which of those would have the most impact?
Qualitative Assessment

Building departments range in size from a single person doing all permit reviews and inspections to hundreds of employees, each specializing in one aspect of the construction or permitting process.    A qualitative assessment will help clarify staffing and workflow issues and help to identify issues that can be addressed to aid in improved compliance.  The IMT Methodology includes a process for identifying the issues within the jurisdiction that may be impacting energy code compliance.

Typically identified challenges include training and education, procedures and tools for plan review and inspection, and staffing. The following are suggestions on the steps to take with examples and best practices of implementation and compliance across the nation.

Set a Goal and Establish a Plan

An assessment of current energy code compliance will usually come with some recommendations for improvement.  These could be procedural by dedicating staff to certain activities, or code-measure recommendations suggested for implementation.  While it may be tempting for some jurisdictions to implement all the recommendations and achieve 90 percent or greater compliance with the energy code immediately, it is better to choose a select few but impactful code items to emphasize, and then move on to additional, more detailed energy code measures.

Examples of such initial goals could be:

  • By 2025, 90 percent of all HVAC systems will be right sized to ACCA Manual J and Manual S or ASHRAE 183, as applicable.
  • By 2022, request the commissioning report of all applicable projects prior to the certificate of occupancy.
  • By 2025, implement a sector-wide air-leakage verification program that collects all blower-door tests of applicable scopes of work prior to certificate of occupancy and establishes quality control on a random percentage of projects.

Plan Review and Inspection Tools

Compliance and enforcement tools are needed to implement the energy code. ICC has developed a no-cost simplified residential intake/plan review and inspection form based.  Written for the 2018 IECC, it is modifiable by the jurisdiction and can be adjusted to reflect local amendments and other code years.  PNNL and ASHRAE have developed a spreadsheet-based compliance form that meets the documentation requirements of Standards 90.1-2016 and 2019 Section 11 Energy Cost Budget Method and Appendix G Performance Rating Method, and a performance rating method reference manual.

ICC has developed a Model Program for E-Permitting, Plan Review and Remote Virtual Inspections that should be available in early 2021 in the bookstore.

Additional tools may be developing a priority checklist, phased implementation, or strategic use of third-party providers.

Develop a Priority Checklist

A priority checklist can help focus attention on implementing fewer items more thoroughly; perhaps listing the “top ten” highest-impact code requirements with which all projects must comply. Separate lists can be created for any specialized plan reviewers and inspectors, such as electrical and plumbing.  For residential compliance, the list should be based on the key items identified by the single-family residential field study as having the greatest direct impact on residential energy consumption. These key items are listed here:

  • Envelope tightness (ACH at 50 Pa)
  • Window U-factor
  • Window SHGC
  • Wall insulation (assembly U-factor)
  • Foundation insulation (floor/basement wall/slab)
  • Ceiling insulation (R-value)
  • Lighting (percent high efficacy)
  • Duct tightness (CFM per 100 square feet of conditioned floor area at 25 Pa).

Prioritizing commercial code provisions is not as simple as prioritizing for residential compliance, as the impact of measures will vary considerably across climate zones and between building occupancies.  Consider for a moment how differently a six-story hospital in south Florida uses energy compared to a warehouse in Minnesota, however the one commonality is the use of controls for efficient use of lighting and HVAC systems.

Phased Implementation

Proven effective by Chief Building Official Gil Rosmiller in the City of Parker, Colorado, phased or staged implementation can be very effective. It provides time for all stakeholders involved to learn new construction and enforcement practices.   It is important to communicate the plan to stakeholders and to provide education to code enforcement officers and building professionals for each phase. Findings from the AHJ assessment or prior knowledge of challenges will drive the plan. An example of a phased strategy based on local needs comes  from Castle Rock, Colorado demonstrates how this could work. The Castle Rock building department recognized two issues:  the need for education on heating and cooling equipment (duct and capacity sizing is probably the most complex to learn) and building enclosure requirements that must be enforced before accurate load calculations can be made. Their plan started with building enclosure requirements, followed by diagnostic testing and finally mechanical load sizing.

What is prioritized first depends entirely on the AHJ.  For example, upon recent energy code adoption in Saudi Arabia, the initial focus was on ceiling and roof insulation, and other international markets have indicated they would start with commercial lighting – the strategy is the same, and it is based on current construction practices, climate conditions and the needs of the AHJ.

Third-party Plan Review and Inspection

If lack of resources is resulting in lack of compliance, third party plan review may be a solution. The South-central partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (SPEER) notes several benefits in their guidance on use of third parties[i]:

  • Enhanced city energy code inspection capability, reduced inspector workloads.
  • Less permitting time, more compliance.
  • Lower project costs, quicker turnarounds; accelerated local property tax enrollment.
  • Better quality control, more project oversight (city sets inspector criteria).
  • Increased market awareness of project developer.

Planning and oversight is required for effective use of third-party providers.  SPEER notes several of the keys to effective use include clearly defined qualifications, defined inspection documentation requirements and that conflict of interest be included in the selection process.  Use of a third party can only be implemented if the city code includes procedures for authorizing third parties. The SPEER best practice guidance can be found in ICC’s building energy model policy and resources database.

[i] Texas City Efficiency Leadership Council Best Practice, Third-Party Energy Code Inspection. SPEER, SECO, HARC

[i] Jeremy Williams, Presentation at the 2019 National Energy Codes Conference, July 2019 https://www.energycodes.gov/sites/default/files/documents/NECC19_D2S1_Williams.pdf

Addressing Common Technical Challenges

Based on a recent nationwide analysis of frequently asked questions, 35 percent of the queries were focused on residential compliance and the remaining 65 percent focused on commercial.

Residential code questions focused on topics that have generally long been associated with building energy efficiency. The queries included both mandatory (applicable to all compliance paths) and prescriptive items: air leakage and barriers, ducts, envelope insulation and mechanical ventilation. As shown below, there are extensive resources available to address these issues.

Commercial code questions emphasized mechanical systems and controls, lighting controls, roof insulation and additional efficiency packages.  There is not the same wealth of resources for commercial provisions as residential, due in part to the complexity of issues, and lack of analysis.   However, the DOE commercial field study provides insight into the measures that provide the greatest untapped energy savings—controls and commissioning, and fenestration efficiencies

Residential Air Leakage

Limiting air leakage (2012, 2015 and 2018 IECC Section R402.4) is a non-tradable energy code requirement and applies to residential projects regardless of the compliance path selected by the builder. Air leakage requirements include air barrier criteria and testing. Noncompliance with these requirements impacts the energy use of all residential projects.

Air leakage in the building envelope is generally referred to as infiltration, even though it is infiltration and exfiltration. Differentials in pressure and temperature cause air movement through the building thermal envelope if it is not properly sealed. This allows conditioned air to escape and can create particularly inefficient building energy use. Infiltration and exfiltration occur at the same time while the building works to balance itself, with air finding cracks and holes in the air barrier.

The impacts are significant, air leakage can account for 25 to 40 percent of energy used for heating and cooling in a typical residence.

Solutions:  Air leakage and air barrier guidance are well-researched and well-documented energy code provisions. Resources covering the energy and durability impact of air leakage, air testing procedures, air barrier materials, air sealing and other air leakage topics are plentiful. Guidance on air leakage testing in existing buildings is also well documented. Trained and certified air barrier contractors can be found on the Building Performance Institute website (www.bpi.org) and Air Barrier Association of America website (www.airbarrier.org).

The resource database includes comprehensive resources including those focused on Air Leakage Testing,  Air Barrier and Sealing Materials  and Air Leakage in Existing Resources.

Residential Duct and Duct Testing Requirements

Duct sealing and testing are non-tradable requirements, and the minimum provisions must be met regardless of the path selected for compliance. (2012 and 2015 IECC Section R403.2.2, 2018 IECC Section R403.3) In the 2015 and 2018 IECC, the values of duct leakage are prescriptive, as is the duct insulation.  Ducted systems must transfer fresh or conditioned air from the air-handling unit to rooms around the building. IECC provisions specific to ducts and air handlers improve energy efficiency in the design and installation of these systems.

The effectiveness of the ductwork is critical to efficient energy use in the building and providing comfort to occupants. Many HVAC energy experts estimate that about 20 percent of conditioned air intended for distribution in the dwelling unit does not make it to the room or space because of leaks, holes and poorly constructed ductwork systems. Translating this into untapped energy savings shows that nearly 40 percent of the homes in DOE field studies did not meet duct leakage requirements which represented an average statewide annual savings potential of 44,500 MMBtu ($832,400).

Duct sealing is critical regardless of duct location.  However, the value of duct insulation is more dependent on duct location. Ducts traditionally have been in unconditioned spaces such as attics, crawl spaces, garages or unfinished basements, due to extreme winter and summer temperatures in these spaces, 10 to 30 percent of the energy used to heat and cool the air is lost through the duct surfaces.

ANSI/RESNET/ICC 380-2016: Standard for Testing Airtightness of Building Enclosures, Airtightness of Heating and Cooling Air Distribution Systems, and Airflow of Mechanical Ventilation Systems provides a standard for testing the integrity of duct systems and air distribution systems.  Additional resources on efficient duct design, insulation and testing can be found in the ICC building energy resource database.

Residential Building Envelope Insulation Requirements

Insulation requirements for the building thermal envelope, including ceilings, roofs, walls, floors and foundations, are tradable depending on the compliance path selected for the project (2012, 2015 and 2018 IECC Sections R402.1and R402.2). Noncompliance with building envelope insulation requirements has a significant impact on the energy use.

Building envelope insulation directly impacts building energy use by reducing the heating and cooling loads of the building, with a high awareness factor. Despite this, insulation questions represented one of the top four categories in nationwide frequently asked questions (FAQs) and nearly 60 percent of the field study homes did not meet prescriptive insulative requirements, representing an average statewide annual savings potential of 67,900 MMBtu ($1,205,000). Additionally, the reduction in loads can reduce the required sizes of the heating and cooling equipment, thereby providing secondary cost savings.

Solutions:  Resources abound on insulation installation.  However, transference of these resources is needed; installers, project superintendents and code officials all require training.  General and climate zone specific resources can be found in the building energy resource database, and training is provided by the High Performance Insulation Professionals, among others.

Commercial Controls

The  inclusion of HVAC and lighting controls has increased considerably in the last several code cycles, and according to  PNNL analysis better compliance offers 12 percent savings in total building energy cost.  The 14 most impactful HVAC and lighting control measures include:

  • controls for thermostat deadband,
  • economizer,
  • variable air volume box minimum,
  • off hour temperature setback,
  • outdoor air dampers; (6) supply air temperature reset,
  • zone isolation,
  • demand-controlled ventilation,
  • fan static pressure reset,
  • optimum start,
  • occupancy sensors,
  • daylighting,
  • exterior lighting controls, and
  • lighting time switches.

The potential recovered lost energy cost savings through better compliance with the 14 impactful control measures is substantial at $168 –per thousand square feet per year.  The measures are in current code, but compliance varies - approximately 12 percent of total building energy cost could be saved through better compliance with these measures.

Solution:  The best way to ensure controls are installed, calibrated and set properly is through commissioning.  The 2018 and 2021 IECC include functional testing and commissioning requirements in Section C408. Guidance on commissioning is found in the ASHRAE Guideline 0 - The Commissioning Process and  ASHRAE/IES Standard 202, Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems.  and .  As described by ASHRAE, “The Commissioning Process is a quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project by achieving, validating, and documenting the performance of facility elements in meeting the owner’s objectives and criteria. Guideline 0 provides a template for Cx Plans for specific facility elements or assemblies and establishes common content that serves as a uniform method for achieving different levels of commissioning and meeting varying owner's requirements. The guideline serves as the foundation for authoring technical commissioning guidelines more narrowly targeted and focused on specific applications.”

[1] Data is not available to determine what percentage of the units may have used the performance or ERI compliance path and traded the insulation levels against other efficiencies.

Provide Training and Education

Training and education can be impactful, and several models are available including focused issue-based training, site education, circuit riders and more traditional broad-based code training.  The most effective training provides audience-specific delivery targeted to its needs; technical assistance to key stakeholders; and circuit rider programs to ensure that the building, design and enforcement industry has the required resources to design, build and enforce energy codes.

Issue Based Training

Issue-based training has been proven effective in supporting code enforcement and compliance. Across seven states DOE demonstrated issue-based training worked in nearly all scenario - focused on the specific compliance issues facing the state.

The value of training on changes in building practices ranged from annual statewide savings of 1.2 to 4.8 million dollars.  It is important to note these changes were based on compliance with the code adopted in that state, ranging from the 2009 IECC to the 2015 IECC.

This success was based on several training strategies ranging from traditional classroom stand up training to online and on-site training. The states developed partnerships with broad groups of stakeholders to deliver the training that included:

  • Curriculum partnership with community college
  • Circuit riders
  • Tablets and apps in partnership with home energy raters
  • Multimedia messaging combined with on-site training
  • Blend of industry marketing and outreach, and training events.

The successful training was based on several strategies ranging from traditional classroom stand up training to online and on-site training.

  • Curriculum partnership with community college
  • Circuit riders
  • Tablets and apps in partnership with home energy raters
  • Multimedia messaging combined with on-site training
  • Blend of industry marketing and outreach, and training events.

Circuit Riders

Circuit rider programs have been effective in supporting energy code compliance in states as diverse as Idaho, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Florida and Texas. Unlike traditional, broad based one-size fits all training, circuit riders provide topical training and education to stakeholders where and when they need it. They generally travel the state visiting jurisdictions and project sites, providing clarification and support for implementation of the energy code.  Part of the success is the peer-to-peer focus and relational support. Circuit riders also generally reach more stakeholders, resulting in broader application of the training because the circuit rider spends time in the jurisdiction where more stakeholders have access to them, and specific issues are addressed. The Florida circuit rider program focused primarily on commercial construction and site visits across the state. Some highlights were:

  • Introductory communication between Circuit Rider and building department about the site visit and its goals.
  • Pre-visit questionnaire regarding the building department’s processes.
  • Full day meeting on-site (a half day with plans examiners and a half day with inspectors).

The Idaho Energy Code Circuit Rider program is funded by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.  In Idaho, the circuit rider provides free assistance to jurisdictions, permitting departments, code officials, and design and construction professionals through:

  • Technical support via email and telephone
  • On-site education, training and technical assistance for Idaho code jurisdictions and other industry professionals
  • Code interpretations, and installation and enforcement techniques.


Visit the International Code Council energy resources page for more information.