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

New Energy Codes, New Challenges

May 10, 2010 / no comments


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

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)

Dawn of the Daylighting Codes

December 21, 2009 / no comments

It’s pretty safe to say that people like daylight and sunlight. Daylight is good for people, since it sets our biological rhythms, gives us a connection to the weather and time, keeps us physically and mentally healthy, and obviously allows us to perform visual tasks. It’s no wonder then, that architects through the ages have designed architecture to effectively introduce sunshine and daylight into building interiors – not only to sustain human life, but to allow it to flourish.

Daylighting has been an integral part of the built environment throughout architectural history, and structures that are thousands of years old are still revered for their daylighting qualities. “The history of Architecture is the history of man’s struggle for light – the history of the window,” wrote Mies van der Rohe.

It’s only within the last 75 years or so that daylighting has been supplanted by electric lighting as the primary source of interior daytime illumination. Ever since the introduction of air-conditioning, and especially of modular gas-discharge lighting (i.e. modern fluorescent lamps), windows and skylights have been getting smaller and floor plates have been getting larger. Our luminous environments have been deemed adequate and appropriate based on a simple numerical criterion, horizontal footcandles. However, in recent years, especially with the ‘green’ movement, there has been much more pressure to re-introduce daylight back into our interiors and create daylit architecture once again.


But what exactly is ‘Daylit Architecture’? It’s difficult to define. For architects it may be about beauty and ergonomics; for engineers it tends to be focused on energy and economics. Fortunately, with recent studies, we finally have hard evidence showing that daylight in schools improves test scores, and daylight in the workplace improves productivity. In retail, it boosts sales; in hospitals, it reduces recovery time. These studies embolden the stance of the ‘quality’ seekers.

But, on the other side are the energy tyrants. They want to see fewer windows in architecture since windows are terrible insulators. The criticism is real. News stories are unfolding about LEED buildings and how they are not living up to their touted energy claims. But the LEED points for daylighting and views have nothing to do with saving energy. It’s all about interior environmental quality.

So now, there is a bigger push to improve energy usage and enforce ‘green’ building codes. LEED, CHPS, and other programs give you the option of getting daylighting points. A ‘green’ code will require it. There has been overwhelming support for some type of daylighting requirement or code, but the problem seems to be in writing one. Most would agree that, if introduced properly, daylighting can save energy associated with interior illumination. The more difficult aspect is quantifying quality. How do you require architecture to beautifully introduce daylight and sunlight into itself?

Codes requiring access to daylighting are relatively new to the United States. Title 24 in California already requires daylighting in certain buildings. There’s a rich history of codes requiring access to daylight. An English law dating back to 1663, Ancient Lights, is a form of easement that gives owners of a building with windows a right to maintain access to daylight. Justinian Code in the sixth century AD included sun rights, laws to ensure that every homeowner had reasonable access to the sun. And, many modern European codes require daylight and views for workspaces and classrooms.

Get ready for daylighting codes across the United States. Come late spring 2010, ASHRAE will have introduced its new Standard 189.1, which is basically a ‘green’ standard that goes beyond the energy-saving measures published in ASHRAE Standard 90.1. It also contains a lot of language about minimum amounts of windows and required illuminance from daylight. The other big player is the International Code Council, with their new proclamation, the IgCC, or ‘International Green Construction Code’. In that particular code, the daylighting portion will most likely be broken into two sections: energy and indoor environmental quality. This approach makes the most sense for both camps. We want enough daylight and views to elevate the human spirit, but not so much as to cause glare or unnecessary energy usage associated with excessive cooling loads.

It won’t just be footcandles and daylight factors anymore. Relatively new metrics such as Daylight Autonomy, Daylight Saturation Percentage, Useful Daylight Illuminance, and Daylight Glare Probability may become common language within these new daylighting codes.


It’s probably time that we have some sort of code that protects and even encourages our access to our greatest energy source, the sun. How it is written makes all the difference. It cannot reward poor design, or suffocate good design.

Great daylit architecture comes from the brilliant architects and designers who create it, not from a formula or code. But gone are the days of overly-glazed façades used in the name of ‘daylight’. Responsible practice must produce sustainable architecture, even if it has to be mandated.

Photo Credits: Elinnea (1), Roryrory (2), Stephen Lee (3), Lam Partners Inc (4)