Climate Change Legislation Calls for Energy Use Reduction in Commercial Buildings

Written with the goal of creating millions of new clean energy jobs, saving consumers hundreds of billions of dollars in energy costs, enhancing America’s energy independence and cutting global warming pollution, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the House of Representatives passed last Friday, includes a number of provisions designed to help create more energy-efficient buildings. Some organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects (AIA), are highly supportive of the legislation, as they say it will help “spur the design, construction and renovation of sustainable buildings.”

“The House should be commended for including provisions architects have long supported, including investments in energy-efficient retrofits of homes and businesses and funding for community-based planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation network. Also, we are extremely pleased the House bill included AIA-drafted language to ensure that energy codes are coordinated with other building codes and that architects and others receive appropriate training in how to implement them,” said Paul T. Mendelsohn, vice president, AIA government and community relations.

He added, “These provisions not only will make the buildings and communities we live in more sustainable, they will create thousands of jobs for designers, planners, and builders, and they will lower energy bills for homeowners and businesses alike.”

If signed into law, a number of requirements would become effective for commercial, as well as residential, buildings.

Effective on the date of enactment, the law would call for a 30-percent reduction in energy use relative to a comparable building constructed in compliance with the baseline code (Note: baseline line code for commercial structures is the code published in ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2004). Effective January 1, 2015, for commercial buildings, this requirement increases to a 50-percent reduction in energy use relative to the baseline code. Effective January 1, 2018, and every three years thereafter through January 1, 2030, a 5-percent additional reduction in energy use relative to the baseline code for commercial buildings would be required.

In regards to zero-net energy buildings, the act states that the “secretary shall consider ways to support the deployment of distributed renewable energy technology, and shall seek to achieve the goal of zero-net-energy commercial buildings established in section 422 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (42 U.S.C. 17082).”

Technologies and design approaches that can help enable the construction of net-zero energy buildings may also represent an opportunity for the glass and fenestration industries. This could include further development of highly insulating glass and window packages, such as those with triple-glazed insulating glass units.

The legislation also notes a requirement for national energy efficiency building codes for both residential and commercial buildings. This would be established no later than one year after the deadline for establishment of each target (meeting the 50-percent energy use reduction and the additional 5-percent reduction every three years thereafter, as noted above). The national energy efficiency building code established to meet the 30-percent energy reduction target would take effect no later than 15 months after its effective date.