Raising the Floor: Improving Efficiency through Codes and Standards
Energy policies to improve building efficiency often favor voluntary, incentive-based approaches over mandates. Tax credits, financial rebates, loan guarantees and other mechanisms all serve as carrots dangled in front of decision-makers to encourage steps in the direction of greater efficiency.
One notable exception occurs at the beginning of a building’s or a product’s life cycle. Governments— involved already in the permitting process for new and renovated buildings—see this start-up phase as a prime window of opportunity to issue mandates that embed efficiency into the system for decades to come. Likewise, energy policy can focus on improving equipment efficiency from the start—creating and enforcing efficiency standards on a variety of products that manufacturers are required to achieve. For this reason, codes and standards have been identified as important steps toward more efficient buildings.
Assessment of Electricity Savings in the U.S. Achievable through New Appliance/Equipment Efficiency Standards and Building Efficiency Codes (2010 - 2020) explores the impacts of existing and proposed codes and standards on electricity consumption in the United States. The potential impacts are large (3-9 percent reduction in energy consumption). There are, however, several areas of concern policymakers should address as they attempt to implement effective codes and standards aimed at improving efficiency:
Compliance – Experts estimate that compliance with building code across the United States is lower than 50 percent. While efforts have been made recently to encourage and enforce compliance with code, jurisdictional issues and inconsistency among codes still make this effort politically challenging.
Maintaining Efficiency – Little effort has been made to use regulations to monitor and mandate efficient performance over time. Even buildings that meet efficiency-based codes at opening will often drop off a less efficient state of performance soon after.
Paradigm Change – Codes and standards have played a role in energy efficiency over the past decade by requiring installation of efficiency technologies such as T8 fluorescent lightings. To meet long-term efficiency goals, however, utility, government, and private sector decision makers must seek out “deeper,” more systemic opportunities. Creating energy policies that facilitate and incentivize “whole-building retrofits” for existing buildings is one approach that could lead to impressive gains.