Despite all the technological advances in energy efficiency over the last few decades, as a nation, we are still consuming and wasting too much energy. Commercial and residential buildings account for almost 40 percent of the total primary energy (that’s all forms of energy) in the United States. Buildings alone consume 70 percent of the country’s electricity. As recently as 2007, lighting, heating, cooling, cooking, refrigeration, water heating and other building services produced 39 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the US and 8 percent worldwide.
Statistics like these point out the critical need to increase the efficiency of building energy codes – one of our best opportunities to bring about significant energy savings and promote a strategy of building more low-energy commercial buildings. In the meantime it’s more important than ever for architects, consultants, and contractors to recommend, design, and construct buildings that meet the most current energy codes while encouraging clients to exceed those code requirements in their building designs.
What some might not understand is how much energy codes affect the overall building design and systems, both collectively and separately. For example, lighting and window design can affect cooling loads, while windows affect lighting design, etc. Energy codes currently apply to:
- Components associated with the building thermal envelope – the parts of a building including exterior walls, roofs, and floors that enclose heated or cooled space
- Heating, cooling and ventilating systems and equipment
- Lighting systems and equipment
- Water-heating systems and equipment
In the future, energy codes will be revised to better address plug-and-process loads (electricity consumed by appliances and devices that, for example, compute, heat, cool, cook, and treat things). These codes can be adopted directly through federal, state, and local legislative action or by regulatory agencies authorized by their appropriate legislatures.
The good news for individuals and companies considering new construction is that energy-saving measures are often inexpensive and funding for all or part of an energy-saving initiative may be available from local utilities and/or government agencies. Regardless of revised energy codes, any effort made to save energy will pay big dividends now and in the future.