Season’s Energy Code Greetings

December 13, 2010 / no comments


With the onset of the holiday season, we have also come to the end of the three-year energy code development season. The new 2010 version of ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 has been published, and IECC-2012 will be published in April 2011. (No, that’s not a typo. IECC-2012 will be published in 2011. Don’t ask, I have no idea.)

It will be a while – years, probably – before IECC-2012 is adopted by states, and at least a year before 90.1-2010 is incorporated into LEED, but the code development community is already looking towards the next versions of these model energy codes: 90.1-2013 and IECC-2015. So, while designers are currently practicing under energy codes that are at least three years old, code geeks have their heads three years in the future. So, what gifts might the next code development season bring us?

Watch the IECC

Historically, the IECC relied on 90.1 for energy code content. With IECC-2012, the IECC lighting section takes on a life of its own. Expect that trend to continue. While 90.1 will likely remain influential, since the IECC is the actual code that states adopt, the IECC may be where the action is in the future.

Stretch Your Codes

Energy codes only set a minimum acceptable performance (the worst possible building that you can legally build?). Institutions, corporations, and governments that understand this are looking for ways to push their energy use even lower. One way to do this is with “stretch codes” such as the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code which has been adopted by over forty Massachusetts communities. This Stretch Code is an appendix to IECC-2009 that increases stringency.

Another way to go beyond the minimum is through green building codes such as the new International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Green building codes are intended to have energy performance provisions that are more stringent than base energy codes. Because of this, new energy regulation ideas are being proposed in the IGCC development process. Keeping an eye on the development of the IGCC’s energy chapter may give us an idea of what future energy codes will look like.

These advanced code programs, if adopted widely, will make the designer’s job more complex. Not only will they have to keep track of the applicable energy code in each state, but they will have to know if the municipality is using a stretch energy code or has adopted a green building code with its own separate energy provisions. And they may struggle to design to different and potentially conflicting requirements.

Squeeze Out More – a Lot More!

The pressure is on and will almost certainly continue for the energy codes to be more “efficient”. For the last code cycle, the goal was 30% more “efficient” than 90.1-2004. We don’t know what the target off of 90.1-2010/IECC-2012 will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a proposed target of 30%. Those of us who have been thinking about this don’t see how this will be possible with typical building technology, design solutions, and energy code methodology.

Lighting Power Density is currently the preeminent tool for regulating lighting energy use. The push for more efficiency in codes means pressure to lower LPDs even more. But barring an unforeseen leap in technology, we can probably only squeeze a little bit more out of LPDs if we are to maintain high-quality lighting. We may be able to eke out some more savings by expanding even further the requirements for occupancy sensors and daylight responsive controls. But how do we make big reductions – 30%, 50%, eventually all the way down to net-zero?! Daylighting.

In order to significantly reduce lighting energy use, we’re going to have to really use daylight to extensively light our buildings. If codes require this, a radical change in mindset will need to take place – resulting in major changes in building footprints, orientation, and envelope design.

Guaranteeing the Outcomes?

If energy codes are supposed to reduce building energy use, then shouldn’t we be directly regulating it? The common prescriptive code methods use blunt instruments such as LPDs, minimum equipment efficiencies, and R-values to affect how a building is designed. These methods do indirectly affect the energy use of the building, but the energy use itself (how the building is operated) is not regulated.

In an ideal world, the energy code should just tell us what the end result needs to be, and let us decide how to get there. Expect to hear more about EUI (Energy Use Intensity), measured in kBtu per square foot per year. An effective building energy performance-based code will require more robust, but easier to use, energy modeling software. It will also require a change in the way we design buildings – with a truly integrated design process where the whole design team is working together to get the most out of a limited building energy budget.

EUI may be the way to make the codes much more “efficient” and still allow high-quality buildings to be built – but many details, such as dealing with occupancy/operating hours, will have to be worked out. Look for energy codes to start requiring a building energy performance method for buildings of certain types or sizes.

Even if you perform complete energy modeling, and design to a specific annual building energy use limit, all you are doing is predicting how much energy the building will use on the day it opens, if properly commissioned and operated. Every lighting designer has their horror stories of carefully designed (and expensive!) lighting control systems that were never commissioned and/or operated correctly, leaving all the lights on, even when daylight is streaming in or when no one is around. The building meets energy code, but if it isn’t operated correctly and becomes an energy guzzler, then the code is ineffective. Realizing this, code geeks are starting to look at “outcome-based” codes.

An outcome-based code might require building owners to certify actual annual energy use. How will an outcome-based code be enforced? Will buildings someday need to get an annual energy certificate just like an elevator or health department inspection? And what would the penalties be for non-compliance? Will design professionals be held responsible for the performance of a building that they designed but do not operate?

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

As you can see, energy codes are likely to get tougher, get more complicated, and adopt unfamiliar new methods. Building design professional organizations such as the IALD, AIA, IES, and ASHRAE are all actively involved with energy code development. If you are interested in getting involved with code development and are a member of one of these organizations, you can contribute. Happy holidays!

Photo Credit: Phillie Casablanca

Shedding Light on Times Square

December 6, 2010 / no comments

The Times Square we know today did not simply evolve towards ever bigger and brighter lights, but rather is the result of deliberately crafted design codes intended to produce a visually arresting environment – celebrating the advertising, commerce, and entertainment culture of New York through the use of bold, bright signs that can be seen as easily from across the street as on a television screen in Tokyo. The codes are the work of architect Robert A.M. Stern, hired by Mayor Ed Koch, who began in 1992 to develop design guidelines as part of a long-term plan to improve the seedy, dangerous, and declined “Crossroads of the World”.

The codes, known formally as the New York City Zoning Resolution for the Special Theater District , read like instructions for producing a crazy science fiction landscape. There are provisions regulating everything from sign size, illumination, animation, and visibility from key points in the square. One article reads, “each of the signs… shall have either: a minimum of 20 percent of its surface area continuously electrically animated either by means of flashing borders, writing, pictorial representations, emblems or other figures of similar character or by means of flashing sign surface area serving as a field or background thereto; or a minimum of 50 percent of its surface area continuously mechanically animated.” Elsewhere, the code provides instructions for creating a customized light meter with accompanying Times Square-specific lighting units: LUTS (Light Units Times Square). It is hard to find many other places where light is regulated so stringently and so specifically.

These highly prescriptive codes set out to produce an environment formed by light, in which light plays an unequivocal role: clear, constant, relentless, and above all, bright. It is the loudest, most bombastic announcement of American prosperity, and it is a wholly new luminous environment. However, despite efforts to manipulate light into confined limits, its wily behavior finds ways to cleverly subvert those intentions.

Amid this over-the-top environment, the modernist architectural glazing of the surrounding buildings becomes a slippery skin upon which Times Square’s illuminated signs reflect and reverberate. The light from a single sign is reflected in thousands of window panes, glazed storefronts, and glass curtain walls, and it mixes with reflected light from hundreds of other signs. Lights inside stores are overpowered by reflected light from outside; the resulting compositions on the glass challenge the tourist to see into the merchandise inside. Sometimes the transparent pane becomes almost opaque simply from reflections.


In contrast to the irrefutably informative illuminated signs, the reflections of those lights multiplied over the surfaces of windows and glazed facades produces the opposite: a thick atmosphere of light and color in which foreground and background become confused. Windows which are normally designated as the first enticing entrance into a store or company become obfuscated by the multiplied myriad of lights beyond. Instead of clearly expressing an identity, the building and the brand are engulfed by the ethereal environment around them.


Daylight also plays games with the show-stopping electrical extravaganza, toying with the Square’s strict configurations of time and illumination, and challenging the 5-minute animation loops. The constant change in lighting conditions throughout the day and seasons mean that it is never the same atmosphere as it was several minutes ago. Despite efforts to schedule the environment into regular, repetitive intervals, natural light counters with variability and variety. And daylight is responsible for one of Times Square’s biggest tricks: at certain times of day, the sun’s brightness completely overpowers the lights of even the biggest signs, and in one fell swoop, takes Times Square and turns it off.



Lighting design today, like architecture, is facing a new era of regulation. The increased use of computer simulations and the increasing importance of energy codes slowly changes the perspective on light into something much more quantifiable and less qualitative. Yet light, like all other elements of perception, resists that quantification. Through perception we are able to rediscover means and methods of conceptualizing space that have been temporarily forgotten amid the wave encouraging us to quantify our world. Times Square, perhaps unexpectedly, shows us that there are territories still to be uncovered.

Photo Credits: © Kera Lagios

Will Green Building Codes Leave You Seeing Red?

February 24, 2010 / no comments


Now that ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1 has been published, it’s time for the building design and construction communities to consider the implications of the new green building codes coming out.

What is a green building code, and why do we need one? Imagine LEED written in code language – site sustainability, water use, energy, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources. We need green building codes because LEED is not a code; it is a voluntary rating system, not a mandatory code.

Many cities and states desire a green building standard that they can apply as code or ordinance, or through “green” legislation. To meet this need, some cities have adopted LEED as a requirement. For example, Boston requires that projects over 50,000 square feet be “LEED certifiable”. The City can’t require you to be officially LEED certified, and because LEED is a points-based rating system, there are many ways to achieve “certifiabilty”. Messy, hard to enforce – LEED is not a legal code and the USGBC does not want it used as a code.

Thus, the motivation for ASHRAE, the USGBC, and the IES to team up and create a green building standard, written in code language and ready to be adopted by any municipal or state government. It has taken several years and four public review drafts to finally get Standard 189.1 on the street. And it is still a work in progress; proposals are already being accepted by ASHRAE for changes to the standard.


Fine, you say? Sounds like a good idea, let’s see what happens? Sorry, it’s not going to be so easy – there is another green building code in the works! Have you heard of the IGCC, the International Green Construction Code? Same idea, but this time from the ICC and the AIA! (The ICC is the International Code Council who brings you the IBC and the IECC) This code has been in the works since last summer and the first draft for public review is expected March 15th. The code will be finalized at the end of next year and published in March 2012.


So what will happen? Which code will be adopted? Will they be adopted at all?

Standard 189.1 has the advantage in that it is already available, a full two years before IGCC will be ready. But the IGCC will be from the “code guys” who provide all the building codes typically being adopted in the US, so perhaps it is a more likely candidate. Worst-case scenario: in three years we have two green building codes being adopted by towns and states scattered across the country. Building design and construction professionals will have to be conversant in two different green building codes – in addition to LEED! And for each city and state we will have to keep track of which code applies, and how it is used. Perhaps one city decides that they will only apply the green code to city-funded projects, or to projects larger than 25,000 square feet, or…?

The other thing to think about is the relationship of green building codes to energy codes. The assumption is that the energy provisions in a green building code are more stringent than the applicable energy code, which would be superseded. But what if a state or locality adopts an energy code that is more stringent than the green building code they have previously adopted? Someone will have to sort this out.

And if your head isn’t already hurting, try this: you are designing a LEED project in a town that has adopted a green building code. So, now you have to design to two different green standards -every design option would have to be tested twice. And you’d have to do the calculations and documentation twice to prove compliance with each provision.

I hope someone at the USGBC is thinking about this. I know that those of us on the IALD’s Energy and Sustainability Committee have been thinking about it. Through our work on standards drafting committees, and through public review commenting, we are striving for consistency between all electric lighting and daylighting related provisions in 189.1, IGCC, and LEED.

But have you heard about CALGREEN, California’s new mandatory Green Building code? Oh, my.


Image Credits: ASHRAE (1), ICC (2), Lam Partners (3)