Season’s Energy Code Greetings

December 13, 2010 / no comments

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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

New Energy Codes, New Challenges

May 10, 2010 / no comments

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Readers of this blog have already heard about the new Green Building codes, but there are new versions in the works, both of the energy code standard ASHRAE/IES 90.1, and of the International Conservation Code (IECC). What will these codes look like, and how will they affect the work of architectural lighting designers?

The 2010 version of ASHRAE/IES 90.1 will be published this fall. Standard 90.1 is the benchmark model energy code. Although rarely adopted directly as code, it is an alternative path for IECC compliance; it’s also the energy performance reference for both the US Department of Energy and the LEED rating systems, and is highly influential, like California’s Title 24, as a trendsetter.

ASHRAE’s goal for the 2010 version of 90.1 is to be 30% more stringent than the 2004 version. Standard 90.1-2010 will have lighting power allowances that are significantly lower than the 2004 and 2007 versions. Additionally, there will be many new controls requirements such as mandatory use of occupancy sensors in some spaces, incentives for daylight responsive controls, exterior lighting after-hours shut-off, and controls commissioning requirements, among other things.

The IECC is currently in the middle of its three-year development cycle. IECC-2012 will be published in April 2011. The goal of the Department of Energy and other stakeholders in IECC development is for IECC-2012 to be 30% more stringent than the 2006 version. It’s a little early to know for sure what will be in the next version, but expect reduced power allowances, and the addition of a space-by-space method for determining lighting power densities. Another concept that’s been proposed is the “Additional Efficiency Package Options”. To comply, the project will have to pick one option from a menu of energy-efficiency provisions like more efficient mechanical equipment, onsite renewable energy, or reduced lighting power allowances.

But here’s the thing to keep in mind: even though these new standards will be published soon, they don’t become code until they are adopted by individual states. By federal law, the DOE must evaluate each new version of 90.1 to determine if it is more efficient than the previous version (and because IECC offers 90.1 as an alternative compliance path, it piggybacks on the DOE determination). If the standard is found to be more efficient (and it will be), states are required to adopt an equally stringent code within two years.

But, enforcing this provision and getting the states to adopt the latest code is easier said than done. Currently, only ten states have adopted the most recent standard, IECC-2009/90.1-2007. At the other end, eleven states have either no statewide energy code at all, or are using standards older than 90.1-1999. The remaining states use something in between. This lag is typical, but I expect it will decrease, given the global push to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. If states follow the example of my home state of Massachusetts, then code lag will be very short in the future. Last year, Massachusetts not only adopted IECC-2009, but wrote into law that newer versions of the IECC will automatically become code soon after publication.

One school of thought says that these new standards will be overly stringent and will make it impossible for designers to produce quality results. I don’t agree with this opinion. Through my work as Chairman of the IALD Energy and Sustainability Committee, I’m pretty familiar with what is likely to be in these standards. We’ve been working hard to make sure that the codes are as aggressive as possible, but without prohibiting quality design. I believe that the new standards will only codify what any responsible designer should already be doing to reduce the negative environmental impact of their design. And, I do not think that they will prevent us from producing effective, comfortable, and beautiful spaces.

Yes, it will be harder. The “cushion” will be gone; we will have to be very careful with our use of energy in order to meet code. Competency in lighting design will require deep knowledge of code requirements, the skill to get the most out of limited power budgets, and expertise in lighting controls technology and system design.

Image Credit: D-32