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.
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?
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.
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