DOE releases energy-saving rules for federal buildings

On March 30, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced new building energy code requirements for federal buildings. Beginning in April 2023, all new buildings and major retrofits constructed by the federal government must comply with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the 2019 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers Standard 90.1 building energy codes.

The DOE’s announcement follows the launch of the White House’s Building Performance Standards Coalition, a partnership between more than 30 city, county, and state governments. Announced in January, the goal of the partnership is to advance legislation or regulations in each of those jurisdictions by April 22, 2024.

The DOE estimates that the new energy code requirements will save $4.2 million in operating costs within the first year of implementation. Together, the DOE estimates that the use of the new codes and proposed standards on room air conditioning and pool heaters, which were also announced on March 30, could potentially save more than $15 billion in net costs over the next 30 years. The standards may also potentially save 2.2 quads of energy, which is equivalent to the energy use of 13 million homes in one year, and reduce emissions equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 14.4 million homes over a 30-year period.

The federal government is the single largest building owner and manager in the US, with a portfolio of more than 350,000 buildings totaling more than 3 billion square feet of floor area across the country. A recent DOE analysis found that implementation by states of the latest IECC building energy codes could result in $3.24 billion in annual energy cost savings for consumers. The analysis showed that residential buildings (including those constructed by the federal government) meeting the 2021 IECC, as compared with buildings meeting the 2018 IECC, would result in national site-energy savings of approximately 9%, source-energy savings of nearly 9%, and energy-cost savings of more than 8%. 

The 2021 IECC incorporates significant changes over the 2018 edition, including:

  • increased insulation requirements and reduced fenestration U-factors and solar heat gain coefficients for both residential and commercial provisions;
  • updated mechanical equipment efficiency requirements and new provisions for data centers and plant growth lighting; and
  • increased lighting efficacy and decreased lighting power density requirements for commercial buildings.

Design firms should recognize, however, that the increased requirements could result in increased design risks. On a historic note, over 40 years ago when the federal government announced the first Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) in response to soaring energy costs resulting from the OPEC oil embargo, professional liability claims against design firms also soared. In part because of high interest rates, material price escalation, and unrealistic expectations, the federal BEPS and related state energy efficiency rules contributed to the more than doubling of the average claim count against design firms.  At that time, few firms had the knowledge and tools to design to suddenly increased efficiency requirements. Firms are cautioned to match their skills sets to the new codes and standards.

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