Outcome-Based Energy Codes Link Operations To Design
The fact that some LEED buildings were using more energy than traditional minimum-code building was not good news. Indeed, it was eye-opening ("groundbreaking," DiNola says) for many in the industry. It was then that several groups began working on proposals for the 2012 version of the IgCC that would include an outcome-based method of compliance to better link operations to design. But because the idea was too new and the proposals weren't well coordinated, they went nowhere.
Now, however, things are different. Resistance is slowly melting away, and advocates are better organized and aligned. "Outcome-based policies are much more well-understood in the industry and the reasons they're needed are better understood," says Jim Edelson, director of codes and policy for the New Buildings Institute.
Those reasons jibe with the reasons energy codes exist in the first place — to save energy. "State and local governments are very interested in achieving their energy and greenhouse gas emissions goals," says Ryan Colker, director, consultative council, and presidential advisor for NIBS. "Achieving those goals really relies on measured results. Codes today are based purely on design, not necessarily having to achieve that result."
This defeats the purpose of a jurisdiction adopting an energy code at all — there's no verification that a code-compliant building is actually saving energy. What's more, because energy codes are not a life safety issue, and code officials aren't experts in energy issues, energy codes aren't always strictly enforced, says Ron Burton, a codes and standards advocacy consultant with PTW Advisors, and a former vice president, codes, standards, and regulatory affairs, with BOMA. "Code officials are primarily responsible for making sure the building doesn't fall down," he says. "So energy is a second-tier priority."
Indeed, the reality is that responsibility for code compliance sometimes defaults to the design team. "Design team puts its stamp that the design will meet the code," says Burton. And the code official issues a certificate of occupancy based on the design team's word.
"Compliance with energy code is at about a 70 to 80 percent rate, not 100 percent," says DiNola. "Even though we have codes, we don't always have compliance."
This isn't an ideal situation. But it is one that's solvable. "Outcome-based codes can be a way to bridge that problem," Burton says. "Soon, code officials will have proof that the building either did or didn't meet code. It's not based on what a designer says anymore." That proof is actual, metered energy data.
Despite this opportunity to streamline compliance, code officials are the loudest voice of opposition to the idea of an outcome-based compliance method. The reason is simple: It is a pretty dramatic change from how the system works now, and as Edelson says, "New engenders opposition."
"Building departments are in the habit of issuing a certificate of occupancy and then walking away," says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation. "There's no ongoing responsibility, except maybe with elevators or fire code."