<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1450145815007075&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

How the Future of Energy Codes Will Change Construction

Energy code changes can be challenging to keep up with. But if recent reports and statistics are any indication of what the future holds, more codes requiring energy efficient buildings are on the way. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), buildings account for 40 percent of the world’s energy use. Besides using more energy than any other sector of the U.S. economy, buildings account for approximately 70 percent of electricity consumption, 40 percent of CO2 emissions, and 14 percent of water consumption in the U.S.

Vision 2030

Composed of several industry groups including the AIA, Vision 2030 asks the global architecture and building community to achieve a dramatic reduction in the climate-change-causing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the building sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed, and constructed. Vision 2030 is specifically focused on lowering building energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Although Vision 2030 is at the core of the AIA 2030 Commitment, it encompasses other issues as well, such as incorporating water and indoor air quality.

Vision 2030 seeks to have all new buildings, developments, and major renovations designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 60 percent below the regional (or country) average/median for that building type—and at a minimum, to have an equal amount of existing building area renovated annually to meet those goals. With the overall objective of carbon-neutral buildings by 2030, the following interim goals are targeted: The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations increased to 70 percent in 2015, 80 percent in 2020, and 90 percent in 2025.

While these goals go well past those of the current energy codes, Vision 2030 suggests that targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power, and/or purchasing (20 percent maximum) renewable energy. Of these three approaches, sustainable design strategies are by far the most important. While manufacturers can help with new and better products, the bigger burden falls on architects, who can employ such design strategies as building size—volume and floor space—orientation, air tightness, higher R-values, thermal mass, and continuous insulation to reduce energy costs.


This standard provides minimum requirements for energy-efficient designs for buildings except low-rise residential buildings. Originally published in 1975, ASHRAE 90 has undergone multiple editions due to the rapid change in technology and energy prices.

Now the standard is ASHRAE 90.1, which has been updated several times since it was published in 2001, on the basis of making technologies more efficient and developing new technologies. Many states apply the standard or equivalent standards for all commercial buildings while others do so for all government buildings.

International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

The IECC is published by the International Code Council, a member-focused association dedicated to helping the building safety community and construction industry provide safe, sustainable, and affordable construction through the development of codes and standards used in the design, build, and compliance process. Most U.S. communities and many global markets choose the International Codes, or I-Codes. Providing minimum safeguards for people at home, at school and in the workplace, the I-Codes are a complete set of comprehensive, coordinated building safety and fire prevention codes.

The IECC, which references ASHRAE standards, is an I-code, a model code adopted by many state and municipal governments in the U.S. for the establishment of minimum design and construction requirements for energy efficiency. Introduced in 1998, the IECC addresses energy efficiency on several fronts including cost savings, reduced energy usage, conservation of natural resources and the impact of energy usage on the environment. IECC’s precursor was called the Model Energy Code. IECC 2009 was recently updated by the IECC 2012.

It is generally considered that the adoption and enforcement of energy codes is one of the quickest, cheapest, and cleanest ways to reduce energy use in the built environment and help ensure a sustainable and prosperous future. Not only do energy codes reduce needless energy consumption and help protect the environment, they provide common benchmarks that drive new designs and technologies.

The desirability of energy codes is a given, but the question becomes which code to follow. The answer lies in where the project is located. Rather than mandating across-the-board changes, IECC code changes are only enforceable when they are adopted at the state or local level. Many jurisdictions do not adopt new versions of the code immediately after publication. When states or municipalities do adopt updated codes, they generally incorporate changes to reflect regional building practices, or state-specific energy-efficiency goals, sometimes deleting, supplementing, or otherwise changing various sections of the code. As of August 2012, the commercial code status is as follows:

  • Most states and U.S. territories—38 out of 56—require ASHRAE 90.1-2007 / IECC 2009 equivalent or less.
  • One state has stricter requirements.
  • The rest have less stringent requirements.
  • Ten states have no statewide code at all.

The maps below illustrate the commercial and residential energy code situation by state.
Energy Code by State

A special thanks to Oldcastle APG Masonry and Architectural Record for supplying us with this article.

Get your free copy of our ‘Masonry Meets New Energy Codes’ download. In it we discuss the changing green building picture, focusing on new requirements in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Sign up to receive daily updates in your email