U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) building energy codes were put into effect in the 1970s. Between 1992 and 2012, they have saved homeowners an estimated $15.6 billion.

The Building Energy Efficient Standards took effect Jan. 1, 2017, in California. First adopted in 1976 and updated about every three years, the standards contain energy- and water-efficiency requirements as well as indoor air quality requirements for new construction, additions to existing buildings, and alterations to existing buildings.

The state’s energy commission is required to establish performance standards in the form of an “energy budget” of the energy consumption per square foot of floor space. To achieve this, there is a prescriptive option (allowing builders to comply by using methods known to be efficient) and a performance option (allowing buildings complete freedom in their designs, provided the building achieves the same overall efficiency as an equivalent building using this prescriptive option). 

The standards focus on electrical power distribution systems, indoor lighting systems and equipment, outdoor lighting systems and equipment, lighting controls and solar installations.

Another recently adopted set of standards, ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 2016, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, contains the 125 new addenda published since the 2013 standard came out. It focuses on lighting, building envelope and mechanical systems. 

“It is the overall goal of each version to create a consensus standard that saves energy and is technically feasible and cost effective,” said Drake Erbe, chair of the Standard 90.1 committee.

In terms of lighting, the 2016 standard contains four major modifications from 2013: modified control requirements that make the application of advanced lighting controls easier for increased energy savings, modification of exterior and interior lighting power densities that reflect the efficiency gains from LED technology in specific applications, added minimum requirements for lighting in dwelling units to set limits on light source efficacy, and additional control for lighting in parking areas based on occupancy to reduce energy use.

The 2018 version of the International Energy Conservation Code is being updated. This is considered to be the model building energy code; it is recognized by the DOE, cited in federal law and adopted by more than 40 states. It is updated every three years, with input from code officials, builders, efficiency advocates and other parties.

On the residential side, language clarifies how the Energy Rating Index path of the code is calculated to ensure consistency for consumers, require a minimum level of efficiency for homes that meet the code with renewable energy, and mandate the installation of more efficient windows in most climate zones. Part of the DOE’s interest in the code relates to renewable energy, especially as a way to move toward zero-energy buildings. The DOE has been focusing on three areas: requirements for efficiency, code scope and appropriate metrics.

The final version of the code will be published in mid- to late 2017, following the DOE’s analysis of the document. It will take effect in early 2018.