Commercial Energy Codes and Best Practices

Adopting and enforcing building energy codes that go well beyond current requirements is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy use in commercial buildings.  This section describes the savings potential and cost effectiveness of adopting commercial energy building codes, steps for adopting a program with local examples, and publications and activities in support of commercial beyond-code initiatives.

Efficient Building Practices and Cost Effectiveness

New commercial buildings can be constructed that achieve significant energy savings using energy efficiency best practices in the building design process, construction, and operation of the building. The process for designing, building and operating a commercial building that achieves significant energy savings is similar to a typical building, but with additional emphasis given to the design of the building and mechanical systems, performance of the building envelope and fenestration, and the efficiency and performance of building systems, including lighting, HVAC, and domestic hot water.  For most commercial buildings, energy savings can be achieved by following well defined energy code requirements that make incremental improvements to standard building design and construction practices.  A higher efficiency target could be achieved by employing a combination of advanced building design and performance strategies, including:

  • Incorporating daylighting into the building design
  • Additional lighting controls and power reductions
  • Use of indirect evaporative cooling
  • Heat recovery and night ventilation
  • Premium economizers, and variable speed controls
  • Additional building commissioning using a third-party commissioning agent (CxA)
  • Reduced air infiltration with continuous air barriers
  • Orienting the building to more energy efficient position
  • On-site supply of renewable energy

Examples of commercial buildings that have achieved 30-50% energy savings include:

Steps for Adopting a Commercial Beyond-Code Program

Developing and adopting a beyond-code requirement for new commercial buildings typically involves the following steps.  For more detailed information about how to adopt a beyond-code program, see the municipal examples below.

  1. Adopt the most efficient energy code or standard; 2012 IECC, 2015 IECC, ASHRAE 90.1-2010 or ASHRAE 90.1-2013. Then establish the performance level for the beyond-code program.
  2. Identify what types of commercial buildings will be required to comply.  Most programs include new small commercial office and retail buildings, and major renovations or additions to existing buildings.  Separate standards for large commercial buildings (>50,000 square feet), and mixed use facilities that include housing, office space and retail may also be considered.
  3. Obtain input from affected stakeholders, including commercial property owners and developers, architects and engineering firms that specialize in high performance buildings, contractors and trades, green building organizations, and businesses.  Municipal building officials, planning staff, and building code enforcement officials should also be consulted.
  4. Prepare legislation requiring an advanced code.  Typically, city or county staff prepares a draft ordinance or legislation establishing the advanced code requirements, which are then implemented by the planning and building departments as a new energy code, or amendments to existing codes, such as the IECC.
  5. Provide training and technical assistance to builders and commercial property developers on complying with the new code requirements. 
  6. Adopt and enforce the code, and continue in-depth training and technical assistance to building industry for 18 to 24 months duration.
  7. Track and evaluate progress toward implementing the code annually, and review and update the energy savings goals and code requirements periodically (typically every 3 years).

Advanced Codes

Advanced codes are developed and adopted in various ways. One approach that local governments  have used for implementing a more efficient commercial energy code is to amend the ASHRAE 90.1 requirements with more stringent requirements in targeted areas, such as building envelope, mechanical systems, lighting, and domestic hot water. Other states and cities (e.g., California, Seattle) have developed their own versions of energy codes that are more stringent than ASHRAE, and address additional aspects of building energy use (e.g., cool roofs and solar capabilities). In addition, the new International Green Construction Code and ASHRAE Standard 189.1 are available for above code commercial building design and construction. Many above code policies reference the LEED and ENERGY STAR programs. 

For example, the City of Fort Collins, CO examined various programs (LEED, ENERGY STAR, CALgreen, IGCC, 189.1, WaterSense) and developed a package of amendments to green their building codes. Scottsdale, AZ adopted the IGCC for their development district only. Massachusetts developed a stretch code based on the New Buildings Institute Core Performance Guide. Lastly, the New Buildings Institute has been advocating for “outcome-based” code provisions that would require post occupancy data collection.

Program Examples and Best Practices: Commercial Beyond-Code Programs

For more information about these and other commercial energy code programs, see the Green Building Initiatives.

SWEEP Programs and Information Resources

In 2008, SWEEP helped develop a Guide to Developing "Beyond Code" programs to assist state and local governments with the design and implementation of successful efficiency programs for new commercial and residential buildings in the Southwest. The guide provides detailed descriptions and analysis of previously implemented programs, including lessons learned and best practices.

SWEEP has completed several reports and studies that analyze the savings potential from adopting more stringent residential and commercial building energy codes, and provide recommendations to state and local officials and other policymakers for adopting and enforcing above-code programs. A list of key reports is provided below; for more information, see the case studiespublications, and policies & legislation section of the SWEEP website.