Learning the Lingo

LEED Green Building Rating System… California Title 24… ASHRAE 90.1... Not only is the building industry learning a new vocabulary, but the green revolution is creating a complete new set of expectations, standards, regulations, codes, and, in short, a new way of doing things for electrical contractors. The environmental shift is upon us because the energy consumed by buildings in the United States is staggering. According to the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, buildings account for 37 percent of primary energy use and 68 percent of all electricity use. They demand 60 percent of non-food/fuel raw materials use, generating 136 million tons of construction and demolition debris per year. That translates into 40 percent of nonindustrial solid waste and 31 percent of mercury in municipal solid waste. Buildings use 36 billion gallons of water per day, which is 12 percent of potable water, and in many urban systems, they create 20 percent loss of potable water due to leakage. They also produce 35 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions and 49 percent of all sulphur dioxide emissions.

If green building trends have not yet affected your part of the industry and the way you do business, then they will soon. Insiders in the green building industry are loudly proclaiming to anyone willing to listen that their way of doing business is the wave of the future. Those who are willing to do green business early on will qualify for and will win business on the front end of this revolution; contractors who drag their feet will not get the job. Insiders further boldly claim the perpetual naysayers who refuse to ever comply will not survive the green transition.

Those are pretty strong words to a trade that proudly wears its conservative, established way of doing things as a badge of honor. But the green proponents back up their claims by pointing out, among other things, that many communities around the country, including some large cities such as San Francisco; Boston; Seattle; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Washington, D.C., now require some or all of their new public buildings to be green by some codified standard.

And, it is not just governments that are going green; private corporations are weighing in as well. For example, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Cos. announced in October 2006 that it is the first and only insurance to offer specific coverage for green commercial buildings and to address the unique risks associated with sustainable building practices. And, Bank of America announced in March 2007 a $20 billion initiative to support the growth of environmentally sustainable business activity to address global climate change.

“Energy standards will get tighter and tighter in coming years for both new buildings and renovations,” said William D. Browning, partner of Terrapin Bright Green LLC, senior fellow of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and recipient of the 2004 U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership Award. “That represents tremendous opportunity for electrical contractors.”


The biggest topic in building green is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. It is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED is defined, operated and managed by the members of the nonprofit USGBC, which is a community of more than 8,500 building industry organizations.

LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for all building types, including both new construction and existing buildings. It provides certain prerequisites and performance benchmarks—or “credits”—that projects can earn within a variety of design or construction phase categories. Projects are then awarded Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum LEED certification, depending on the number of credits they achieve.

While there are lots of project credits that do not directly impact the work of a project’s electrical contractors, plenty of the credits do. For example, there are six sets of credits common to several of the rating systems, and five of them have obvious electrical elements: Sustainable Sites (which includes exterior lighting), Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation & Design Process. The sixth set of credits is for Water Efficiency.

The power of LEED—­and the importance of ECs understanding it—is demonstrated: There were 948 projects were registered with LEED in October 2003. There were more than 2,100 registered by September 2005, and there are currently more than 7,000 registered LEED projects. Now, 56 cities and 23 federal agencies have adopted LEED standards for buildings. It is not a matter of if ECs see LEED, but when.

California Title 24

No discussion of energy-efficient building standards can go far without bringing up Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, known as the California Building Standards Code or just “Title 24.” Part 6 of that code is the California Energy Code (CEC), which contains energy conservation standards of the California Energy Commission.

While many consider Title 24 to be the strictest energy code in the country, few expect all of its ideas to stay locked up in the Golden State. As it always has in so many other ways, California likely will set trends in the energy-efficiency codes in the coming years.

Considering its energy usage, it is not surprising that California is setting the pace for energy-efficient standards. The state uses 265,000 gigawatt hours of energy each year, with peak demand growing annually at about 2.4 percent, roughly the equivalent of three new 500-megawatt power plants. The 2005 code changes were adopted in response to California’s 2000–2003 electricity crisis in order to reduce energy costs and consumption, increase the reliability of energy delivery and contribute to an improved economic condition for the state.

The stricter efficiency standards also help avoid rolling blackouts, reduce peak demand and avoid the need to build new generating capacity. California estimates that its efficiency standards will save $43 billion by 2013, all achievable through commercially available technology.

Richard Nogleberg, president of Placer Electric (which has offices in Citrus Heights and Truckee, Calif.), said the 2005 changes to the Title 24 energy code have made the company’s day-to-day work noticeably different.

“In some ways, it is like it has always been, where our crews acquire the materials that have specified on a job and install them as called for. What’s different is that many of the devices that we install have changed,” Nogleberg said.

The 2005 Title 24 updates significantly increase the requirement for new energy-efficient technologies in buildings’ lighting, requiring high-efficacy luminaries, manual-on/automatic-off sensors, and dimmers, especially in residential lighting. The updates emphasize energy-efficiency measures that save energy during peak periods of power generation, such as hot summer days when air conditioners are running. The requirements were based on how much energy a technology can save as well as the technology’s reliability, availability and cost-effectiveness.

“The big difference,” Nogleberg said, “comes when we are working in the design phase on a design/build project.” Such work calls for knowing the efficiency standards and designing accordingly. “And daylighting is now a big part of California buildings, as well.” Daylighting is the practice of placing windows, or other transparent media, and reflective surfaces so that, during the day, natural light provides effective internal illumination.

“In some ways, we’re coming full circle,” Nogleberg said. “There was a time that energy efficiency and natural lighting were a part of every building everywhere. Then we abandoned a lot of that way of building when we got the technology for easy, cheap power and manmade light. But now things have changed again, and we’re having to rediscover those lost methods of energy efficiency.”


Regardless of how you feel about Title 24, it applies only in California. Outside the Golden State, ECs often face the requirements of the third set of codes affecting the green building industry commonly called ASHRAE 90.1. They come from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE (pronounced ASH-ray).

ASHRAE 90.1 (or, more formally, “ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2004, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings”) provides minimum requirements for the energy-efficient design of buildings except low-rise residential buildings. Since being developed in response to the energy crisis in the 1970s, ASHRAE 90.1 now is a standard for building design and construction throughout the United States.

Despite the fact that ASHRAE is a society for heating, refrigerating and air conditioning engineers, several aspects of the current version of ASHRAE 90.1 are of significance to electrical contractors. It provides minimum requirements for the building envelope and systems and equipment for multiple disciplines, including electrical power, lighting, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, service water heating and energy management.

One example of an electrical requirement is a 2004 ASHRAE 90.1 revision that cuts approved lighting power densities by about 25 percent compared to previous standards. As technology for energy-efficient lighting has continued to advance, approved lighting power densities have been lowered gradually to reflect the improving capabilities of lighting and lighting controls.

Other ASHRAE 90.1 electrical standards include requirements for lighting controls (including occupancy sensors and timers), task lighting power densities, and exterior lighting for parking areas, walkways, plazas, building entries, canopies, façade lighting and outdoor sales areas.

Electrical contractors are sitting at the front end of the green building revolution. The International Code Council Green Building White Paper states, “Even though green building continues to gain significant momentum, it is still very much in its infancy.” Coupled with the fact that when done properly, green does not cost more, it is certain that ECs will face green projects soon, if not already. In the paraphrased words of William Browning, “A good team can bring a project into a Silver LEED rating with no increase in first costs.”

Green—it’s here to stay. EC

MUNYAN is a freelance writer in the Kansas City, Kan., area, specializing in business writing and telecommunications. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com.

About the Author

Russ Munyan

Freelance Writer
Russ Munyan is a freelance writer in Olathe, Kan., specializing in technical and business writing. He can be reached at www.russwrites.com

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