US cities adopt stricter building energy codes

(ACEEE blog, 6 Sep 2019) As US cities ramp up their clean energy efforts, stricter building energy codes are some of their biggest success stories. In fact, 30 cities have taken steps to reduce energy waste in buildings by improving these codes, according to the newly released 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard.

These cities are updating their codes, advocating for their state to do more, or benefitting from state action. Since 2017, nine cities adopted more-stringent building energy codes: Las Vegas, Mesa, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Reno, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Tucson. Another five cities successfully advocated for their states to adopt more stringent standards: Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Seattle. In addition, eight cities adopted efficiency requirements for existing buildings: Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Reno, Salt Lake City, San José, and Washington, DC. 

Why does this matter? To address climate change, cities need to reduce buildings’ energy use, because residential and commercial buildings account for about 36% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions each year. Energy codes for new and existing buildings are a great way to do so. These codes affect up to 80% of a building’s energy load and, since buildings typically operate for decades before major renovation, the impact can really add up.

Building codes set minimum efficiency requirements for new buildings and those that undergo significant renovations. For example, they set minimum thresholds for roof and wall insulation, which help reduce heat loss through the building and increase occupant comfort. They also have criteria for the efficiency of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), as well as for lighting and water heating.

Findings from the 2019 City Scorecard

The map below summarizes city codes according to the New Building Institute’s zEPI scale, which is how we scored cities.

Boston and Worcester had the most stringent residential building energy codes, because they adopted the Massachusetts Stretch Energy Code. Meanwhile, St. Louis had the lowest commercial zEPI score. Cities with the lowest zEPI scores had all adopted the 2018 international energy conservation code.  

External link

ACEEE blog, 6 Sep 2019: US cities adopt stricter building energy codes