Kimberly Cheslak, IMT Energy Codes Specialist, shares why all climate and energy goals depend on increasingly ambitious energy codes.
What do you value most about building energy efficiency and high-performance buildings?
I like to say that buildings are the climate action opportunity that nearly everyone can do something about. People often ask, “What can I personally do about climate change?” Well, you live in a building and you work in a building—you have the ability to impact the spaces where you spend your time. Buildings produce upwards of 40 percent of carbon emissions in the United States, so every action counts.
Over the last year, the critical need to improve the performance of our buildings became increasingly clear to me after adding a baby daughter to my family. As IMT and our partners work to make high-performance buildings the norm, I know that building by building, city by city, we are creating a healthier environment for her that will provide better air quality on top of a drastically reduced carbon footprint.
What perspective do you bring to IMT after working in city government?
At IMT, my work focuses on improving and implementing building and energy codes, or the standards for design, construction, and efficiency of commercial and residential buildings in our communities. To achieve this, I work closely with local building code enforcement officers across the more than 30 U.S. metro areas where IMT is engaged.
As a former code official, I know the challenging and often underappreciated job they have, and I remember those experiences—as well as the huge opportunity code officials have to improve building performance. Having been on that side of the conversation makes it easier for me to address on-the-ground concerns and speak from a place of real understanding and pragmatism while trying to help cities reach ambitious goals for their buildings.
We already know it’s possible to achieve a high level of code compliance, which leads to greater safety and energy savings. Together, we can work toward achieving 100 percent code enforcement. (Read Kim’s blog on how city governments should get involved now in the code development process.)
How do building codes contribute to market transformation?
Building codes are the original tool of market transformation. Policymakers spend a lot of time talking about the optimal balance of incentives and policies to transform energy use. I don’t know if an optimal balance exists, but what I do know is that updating the building code immediately updates the minimum standard of how we build and retrofit our buildings—which also raises what we consider “cutting edge” and “high performance” to new heights and creates a ripple effect across regions and industries.
The realization of all climate goals, whether they are net-zero ambitions or renewable energy targets, will hinge heavily on the adoption and enforcement of more stringent energy codes. Getting every building to use the least amount of energy possible should be the bedrock of all plans to reach these ambitious goals.
Modern energy codes also deliver more resilient buildings that are much more than just a roof over your head: They maintain their internal temperatures longer, use less energy to keep occupants warm or cool, and run effectively on emergency generation. This is the core of resilience.
Most of us are increasingly at risk for some type of natural disruption, and city governments need the right tools and guidance to prepare their communities. I am proud to work with the Alliance for National and Community Resilience (ANCR) and several other experts to develop a first-of-its-kind system of community resilience benchmarks that will lead the way. (Read: Why Building Codes Make Our Cities and Communities More Resilient)
IMT was recently awarded a new federal grant to pursue code compliance initiatives in Arizona and Utah. What are some of the expected outcomes?
We are very excited to be part of the continued research with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on residential code compliance. Residential code compliance is critical because more homeowners expect new homes to be energy efficient, and we do not want to saddle them with higher than expected energy bills—particularly when high energy bills are so easily preventable.
This project will build on our previous work on residential compliance in Alabama. Moving into the Southwest, we are seeking to understand how the drier climate zone impacts compliance, energy savings, and occupant comfort. We will also develop new training mechanisms for increased effectiveness through a focus on enforcement and field education. By the end of the project, we will have tested a variety of new strategies and moved toward the goal of enabling more cities to achieve high compliance with up-to-date codes.
How is IMT working to accelerate code compliance?
IMT’s most critical work on code compliance right now is focused on commercial energy codes for existing buildings. While new buildings are important and an obvious sector to focus on because they are easy to identify, the majority of commercial buildings in the U.S. will still be in use in 15 years’ time. So, it is just as critical that we explore how best to move them forward as expediently as possible.
Improving commercial code compliance is a complex undertaking, but it also has significant potential to deliver energy savings. To unlock those savings, IMT is completing a series of commercial energy code studies with the DOE to illuminate key areas for improving compliance in these buildings.
What are you hoping to learn in 2019?
I am hoping to learn how to bring excitement and urgency to every conversation about building and energy codes. By the end of 2019, I’d like to eliminate the phrase, “I know codes aren’t interesting” and instead kick-start discussions about the real value and impact that ambitious, enforced codes bring to cities and communities.