News Brief

IgCC Opens Compliance Pathway Based on Actual Energy Use

An outcome-based approach assures that buildings actually achieve energy targets, while relieving technical pressures on code departments.

January 4, 2015

The 2015 International Green Construction Code (IgCC) will have a compliance option based on an outcome-based approach, officials announced recently.

Previously, building energy codes relied on two main pathways to demonstrate compliance: prescriptive measures, where individual building components met the code-defined parameters, or performance projections based on modeled energy consumption. But once people occupy a building, they often act differently than the code setters and energy modelers assumed.

The new pathway will require a building to meet baseline requirements in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and the owner will be issued a temporary certificate of occupancy. Within three years, the owner must provide the jurisdiction with 12 months of energy use data showing the building meets code targets—and only then will the code official issue the final certificate of occupancy.

Jim Edelson, director of codes and policy at the New Buildings Institute, which advocated for the revisions, stated in a press release, “The adoption of the outcome-based pathway presents a sea change in the way building codes can be met. Cities can now effectively drive better policies in their building sector, design teams gain flexibility to innovate, and building code officials have a streamlined process for validating that a building is operating to code.”

A major benefit of the new pathway is that it could relieve some of the pressure on resource-strapped code departments that are tasked with interpreting sophisticated building models and enforcing a myriad of code requirements. Instead, they essentially have to just check the energy bill. (Design teams should still use energy modeling—early and often—to iteratively move projects to higher levels of performance.)

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Comments

March 2, 2015 - 10:48 pm

Candace Pearson's article on page 17 of the January 2015 EBN describes glowingly a new pathway for building code compliance. It is called an "outcome-based approach" which, "will require a building to meet baseline requirements in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and the owner will be issued a temporary certificate of occupancy. Within three years, the owner must provide the jurisdiction with 12 months of energy use data showing the building meets code targets—andonly then will the code official issue the final certificate of occupancy." The key thing that is left out of the story is the HUGE problem that develops if the building does NOT meet the code targets. History has shown that when the code is not complied with, by accidental omission for instance, owners are rarely, if ever, asked to move out of the building. So, what recourse does the code official have when that happens, as it most surely will?

March 3, 2015 - 5:53 pm

Thanks Richard. In addition to NBI (as cited in the article), the National Institute of Building Sciences has been engaged in development of this pathway. As you clearly state in your comment, owners are rarely kicked out of buildings for failure to comply with a code provision. Often, the remedy is to repair the offending issue or negotiate an appropriate alternative compliance means with the code official. This provision within the IgCC contemplates a similar path for remedying non-compliance. The actual requirements are up to the individual code official or jurisdiction (as is the case with other code provisions). However, as an example, the code official may choose to require the owner to conduct an energy audit and undertake implementation of some level of the audit recommendations and then re-submit paperwork verifying compliance. In a similar approach, Seattle decided to tie a monetary penalty to non-compliance (with some of the penalty being available for mitigation measures). This could be an effective mechanism, but was not deemed as a specific requirement for incorporation in a model code. 

Many of the organizations participating in development of the provision also saw it as a means to link codes with programs and policies within other agencies. While the code sets up the criteria for the design and reporting process, the actual penalties for non-compliance (or even incentives for compliance) can be administered elsewhere (variable tax or utility rates for instance).

In many jurisdictions as the article states, code officials are struggling to enforce energy code provisions--either due to the complexities of a model driven design process or the sheer limit on staff time and resources. This provision and the supporting policies also under development are intended to get the desired performance results recognizing the challenges currently faced by code departments.

March 4, 2015 - 10:18 am

Thanks Ryan, you beat me to the answer here! The New Buildings Institute also offered their response clarifying that there are two ways a project can go about obtaining their Certificate of Occupancy in this compliance path. “Once construction is complete, a project could be granted a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy that would be in place until the energy use verifications are made. The alternative is to be granted a full Certificate of Occupancy but be required to apply for a post occupancy verification permit that would remain outstanding until the energy use is demonstrated in compliance,” according to NBI.

NBI reiterated Ryan Colker’s explanation saying, “Other jurisdictions could also determine further action to take, such as fines, etc. but that would be a local decision.  Seattle chose to apply a financial penalty in a similar code compliance path now included in their energy code.” Even without fines, owners are incentivized to come into compliance because “an outstanding permit to rectify a code provision could affect leasing, sale, refinancing, etc. of the building.”

Hope that answers your question Richard. It seems to me that this compliance path actually offers code officials more options for ensuring a building is functioning as the code intends because they retain some authority until compliance is demonstrated in operations. As we have seen, it is not uncommon for a building to consume much more than its models had predicted or is still an energy hog after checking all the boxes for prescriptive measures.

March 12, 2015 - 12:47 am

Ryan and Candace, I see your point. It IS a simpler way for code officials (they can no longer go to a site and know what thickness of insulation is required - they don't always know which compliance path was used). But aI am still concerned that owners of non-compliant buildings will weasel out of their obligations. Has this (post-occupancy penalties) been tested in court?