Commercial Building Energy Codes – Finding the Path to Improved Compliance

Ari Michelson, ERS
Presentation at AESP’s 26th National Conference in Phoenix, AZ, on Wednesday, February 3 at 10:30 a.m.
Session 4A: Implementation (Rapid Fire)


This paper presents programmatic methodologies that are achieving significant success in improving the compliance rates with building energy codes for the commercial sector. A key objective is to assist the efficiency industry in transitioning from a code support model established when codes were simple to one that aligns with the increasing complexity of energy codes and promotes the design and construction of high-performance buildings.


Building energy codes have become increasingly complex. This is especially true for the commercial building sector, where codes have rapidly transitioned from representing basic building performance at a level that no design team should go below, to mandating performance features that are on a path toward supporting high-performance buildings and eventually zero-net-energy (ZNE) buildings. At the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) national energy codes conference held in March 2015, there was near-universal agreement on three things: the commercial energy code has become too complex for code officials to fully understand and enforce; there is no comprehensive enforcement system currently in place; and code will keep progressing toward ZNE goals. Armed with that knowledge, code developers and administrators are looking for compliance approaches that go beyond the standard training approach long supported by the DOE and place more focus on overall building performance.

The paper authors have significant commercial energy code experience covering the last 15 years. Four comprehensive statewide compliance studies and an impact evaluation of national ARRA-funded energy code efforts have been completed. An evaluation of compliance enhancement programs in New York is also now under way. These efforts include field evaluation of construction practices as well as “Delphi panel” discussions and extensive interviews with code officials and design practitioners. In addition, the authors have trained hundreds of code officials and design professionals across several states. From these efforts there is clear and mounting evidence that compliance is improving in localities where there are active high-performance building programs. Whether the programs involved are “stretch codes,” LEED™, NZE target programs, or high-performance buildings programs such as New Buildings Institute’s Advanced Buildings program, there is evidence that these programmatic efforts assist in improving energy code compliance overall, not just for the participant buildings. These findings led the authors to propose that efforts should further shift from “pushing” code compliance with standard training efforts to “pulling” code compliance through support of better-than-code high-performance building programs. This shift in focus will allow the leveraging of efficiency program efforts with code compliance efforts and will align instructional efforts with the interests of the design community.

Energy codes have been progressing at a rapid rate, and future iterations are anticipated to again increase the complexity and stringency of codes. At the same time, compliance improvement strategies have remained largely static, relying on conventional training approaches. Program administrators are searching for ways to support improved compliance and attribute the resulting savings. This paper and presentation will provide a path toward these goals.

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Image credit: MichaelGaida