Strong building energy codes are among the best, most cost-effective tools we have to significantly reduce energy consumption. Energy bills are the second-largest expense of owning a home, and strong codes can substantially lower those bills, saving consumers millions of dollars every year. But compliance with building energy codes is low—around 50%, estimates the Institute for Market Transformation (IMT). So a lot of the gains from strong codes are not being realized.
“Local building departments face a number of obstacles to raising code compliance,” says Ryan Meres, Code Compliance Specialist at IMT. “Many are underfunded and lack necessary education and training. Sometimes, energy codes are neglected when the focus is on enforcing health and life safety codes.” How can cash-strapped local governments improve energy code compliance? After researching best practices, IMT has released case studies on low-cost, compliance-boosting strategies. They include:
Streamlining regulatory processes. Streamlining makes building departments more effective, improves customer service, and provides cost savings. For example, after buying a new software package to help streamline its permitting and inspections, Ventura County, Calif., saved more than $1 million over a six-year period. Time and money saved by streamlining can be rededicated to improving compliance.
Utilizing certified third parties. Assigning some functions to third parties can be an effective strategy when building departments are under-resourced. A third party can bring objectivity and additional expertise to the energy performance testing process. In Austin, Texas, all new homes must pass energy performance tests administered by third-party companies. The state of Georgia has a similar requirement.
Holding design professionals accountable for compliance has been successful in Wisconsin. In that state, licensed architects and engineers must not only ensure that building plans meet local codes, but that final construction is code compliant. According to a U.S. Department of Energy-funded study, energy code compliance for commercial buildings in Wisconsin reached 95 percent in 2011. The requirement has not caused architects and engineers’ insurance premiums to go up.
Five case studies are available free in IMT’s resource library. Further case studies will follow through 2012. Past IMT research shows that every dollar spent on energy code compliance yields $6 in energy savings, for a 600-percent return on investment.
ABOUT IMT: The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, green building, and environmental protection in the United States and abroad. Much of IMT’s work addresses market failures that inhibit investment in energy efficiency. For more information, visit imt.org.