The Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) advances building energy codes and other programs and policies that accelerate significant carbon and energy savings for both new construction and existing buildings.
Our homes and buildings account for more than 40 percent of energy used in the United States (and even more in urban areas). SWEEP designs, develops, advances, expands, and supports the adoption of state and local policies that slash energy use, energy bills, and emissions in our built environment. We lead on efforts to adopt stronger building energy codes, ensuring that all new homes and buildings are built to be healthy, clean, safe, and affordable from the outset. We also advance efforts to “future-proof” our new homes and buildings to include new technologies like high-efficiency heat pumps and electric vehicle wiring. We are also taking the lead in efforts to make our existing buildings more comfortable, more durable, and less polluting.
*Savings and benefits data preliminary as of spring 2023.
Areas of focus
About energy codes
Building energy codes are one of the most effective tools for ensuring energy efficiency and ongoing affordability in residential and commercial buildings, both for new construction and major renovations. They also increase durability and resiliency, and improve the health and safety of buildings. Energy codes set the minimum construction standards for energy efficiency, covering various aspects of building design such as insulation, windows, air leakage, heating and cooling systems, and water heating. New homes and buildings built to the latest energy code use nearly half as much energy as those built in the early 2000s, while being brighter, more comfortable, less drafty, less noisy, and less polluting. This translates into economic benefits staying local, utilities seeing less impact on the grid from new construction, lower foreclosure in the residential market because of more efficient houses, and lower operating costs for businesses to participate in the process. The national model energy code is called the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and it is updated every three years in an extensive and open process involving builders, building science experts, residents, and other stakeholders. State and local jurisdictions then can adopt or modify it.
Energy codes in the Southwest
Although most states in the country adopt a mandatory statewide code, Southwest states each have variations in how they adopt and implement codes. Utah adopts a statewide mandatory code, and all local jurisdictions must follow these state codes or ask for legislative approval for changes. New Mexico also has a statewide code, but it allows local jurisdiction to adopt stronger codes if they provide their own enforcement. Nevada adopts a statewide code but since it doesn’t require local jurisdictions to adopt it, it acts as more of a guideline. Colorado requires that jurisdictions adopt at least the 2021 edition of the IECC, along with solar-ready, electric-ready, and EV-ready provisions, upon updating any other building code. Arizona and Wyoming are known as “home rule states” where mandatory building codes are adopted and enforced entirely on a local level.
SWEEP's work on energy codes
SWEEP encourages all states and local jurisdictions in our region to adopt at least the latest and most efficient energy codes, as well as to provide effective enforcement. We help states and local governments evaluate options for strengthening energy codes, draft energy code updates and ordinances, and educate local officials and community groups about the benefits of updated codes. SWEEP also works with utilities, state energy offices, code compliance collaboratives, and the building industry to support more education and training on efficient energy codes, with an eye towards mitigating climate change and protecting vulnerable communities with these efforts.
About building electrification
Building electrification means replacing gas- or propane-burning furnaces, water heaters, stoves, and dryers with clean and efficient electric versions. Since these appliances can be powered by an increasingly renewable and clean electric grid, they drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And with no combustible fuel, leaking gas pipes, homes and buildings become much safer and healthier. Most of the fuel used in residential and commercial buildings is for space heating and water heating, so most of the attention in building electrification is focused on efficient heat pumps and heat pump water heaters (HPWHs).
Building electrification in the Southwest
Building electrification is newer in our Southwest states compared to other regions. We’re seeing a surge in interest and adoption here, stemming from heat pump technology advancements that can handle our extra-cold winter temperatures, falling costs of heat pump systems, rising gas prices, and more awareness of the significant climate benefits. Many utilities and local governments in the Southwest now offer incentives for heat pumps and HPWHs to make them more cost-effective for consumers and increase their adoption. There are also federal tax credits for heat pumps and HPWHs and state tax credits in Colorado and New Mexico. Efficient heat pumps are almost a slam dunk in areas with no gas service (propane and electric resistance heating are very expensive). In addition, with rebates, heat pumps are cost-effective replacements for central air-condition systems, with the heat pump offering heating as well as summer cooling.
SWEEP's work on building electrification
SWEEP accelerates building electrification by designing and advancing state and local policies, encouraging stronger utility incentive programs, helping cities adopt building codes that promote building electrification technologies and all-electric new buildings, and supporting organizations such as the Beneficial Electrification League of Colorado (BEL-CO) to help improve training for heat pump contractors, boost consumer awareness, and address other barriers to adoption of building electrification technologies. SWEEP helped BEL-CO develop Love Electric, which provides many resources for homeowners, heat pump contractors, and other stakeholders.
Zero energy buildings
About zero energy buildings
Zero energy buildings are designed to be as energy efficient as possible, and to then produce the rest of their annual electricity consumption with onsite renewable energy (typically solar PV). A recent trend is that zero energy buildings are also all-electric, avoiding fossil fuel consumption through well-designed heat pump systems, HPWHs, and electric cooking. In addition, they sometimes incorporate energy storage (batteries). Zero energy buildings are found in both the residential and commercial sector, and can be either new construction or retrofits (although the latter is more challenging). These energy efficient and innovative buildings provide occupants more durable, resilient, and less costly structures that are more comfortable and healthier to live, work, and play in than a standard minimum-code building.
Zero energy buildings in the Southwest
More than 60 percent of the most energy efficient homes built today in the country have been constructed in the Southwest. What’s more, nearly two-thirds of the homebuilders, architects, and subcontractors who make these highly efficient houses also are based in this region. Our region’s historical connection to land, ample sunlight, and drive for technical innovation all combine to make the Southwest the leading region for zero energy buildings.
SWEEP's work on zero energy buildings
SWEEP encourages the proliferation of zero energy buildings through workshops and training sessions for builders, community leaders, raters, and industry professionals. SWEEP also works with utilities to offer programs and incentives for zero energy homes and buildings, encourages state and local governments to offer reduced permit fees and/or accelerated permitting for these buildings, works on zero energy voluntary “stretch codes,” and works with local jurisdictions that adopt zero energy codes or goals
Benchmarking and building performance standards
About benchmarking and building performance standards
Building energy benchmarking is a proven strategy for helping measure and reduce a commercial or multifamily building’s energy use. More information on a building’s energy use — and how it compares to other similar buildings — allows businesses to make their own informed decisions on how to save on energy costs and increase efficiency. The data from benchmarking helps building owners and managers prioritize and verify the effectiveness of energy efficiency retrofits, and it helps investors and tenants find the most cost-effective buildings to invest in or lease.
The next step after benchmarking, a “building performance standard,” sets targets for reducing overall commercial and multifamily buildings. A benchmarking policy combined with a building performance standards policy are the top actions a city, county, or state can take to reduce energy use and emissions in existing buildings, while lowering energy costs in owned and leased space.
Benchmarking in the Southwest
At SWEEP’s lead, Colorado became the second state in the nation (after Washington) to adopt a statewide benchmarking and building performance standard. At the local level, most of the large cities in the Southwest have joined most of the nation’s other major cities in adopting a benchmarking policy, some with an accompanying building performance standard. Other jurisdictions in the Southwest are benchmarking their own buildings as a way to increase accountability and show good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Many private businesses, too, are now routinely benchmarking their properties and portfolios on their own as a way to prioritize and maximize investments and track improvements. It is a standard good-operating practice.
SWEEP's work on benchmarking and building performance standards
SWEEP strongly encourages states and local governments to adopt benchmarking and building performance standards as a proven and effective strategy for reducing businesses’ energy costs and improving real estate transactions. We help in state and local policy adoption (designing policies, crafting a path to adoption, conducting stakeholder engagement, analyzing options, and coordinating with utilities) as well as policy implementation (increasing compliance rates, advising on scorecards and maps improving data utilization, and maximizing the impact). In addition, SWEEP promotes benchmarking to private businesses as well as state and local government buildings. We help cities, states, and businesses to use benchmarking data results as the underpinning for greater energy efficiency investments, healthier air, and a cleaner environment.
Appliance standards and emission standards
About appliance and emission standards
Appliance standards set minimum energy and water efficiency levels for new products and fixtures for sale. While most appliance standards are set at the federal level, states can still adopt standards for remaining products that have the potential for significant savings. States are working together to adopt consistent statutory language for a set list of products, thanks to coordination, data, and analysis from the Appliance Standards Awareness Project — one of SWEEP’s key partners.
“Clean Lighting” standards, another state-level policy, regulate the mercury content of new lightbulbs, leading to a phase-out of fluorescent bulbs and an accelerated transition to highly-efficient LED bulbs.
Finally, states and regional air districts are exploring setting emission standards for either smog-causing NOx pollution or the GHG emissions from heating and water heating appliances.
Appliance and emission standards in the Southwest
Arizona has had water-saving standards for certain plumbing fixtures dating back to the early-2000s. At SWEEP’s lead, Colorado and Nevada have each adopted the full suite of energy and water-saving appliance standards, mirroring standards in more than a dozen other states nationwide. Several southwestern states have active legislation adopting clean lighting provisions. Utah has statewide NOx emission standards for water heating.
SWEEP's work on appliance and emission standards
SWEEP leads the policy and education efforts in the Southwest for comprehensive statewide legislation for appliance standards, clean lighting, and emission standards. We help with education and place-based analysis on the right products for inclusion, on-the-ground assistance with policy development, and coordination between state adoption efforts.
State-of-the-art building energy codes based on the latest versions of the IECC.
Energy code “add-ons” or amendments such as solar-ready, EV-ready, and electrification.
Beneficial electrification — converting appliances and other equipment from fossil fuel use to electricity use, when the conversion results in lower energy costs, reduced air pollution, or improved utilization of grid resources.
Benchmarking and building performance standards for commercial and multifamily buildings.
Home energy audits at time of listing homes for sale.
Minimum efficiency standards for appliances and other products.
Energy savings goals, ENERGY STAR product purchasing requirements, third party financing mechanisms, utilization of performance contracting, and other policies to cut energy waste in public buildings.
Expanded utility energy efficiency programs, including incentives for the adoption of all cost-effective efficiency measures.
Resources and publications
Buildings Program Director
Senior Buildings Policy Manager
Buildings Program Associate
Support our work
Supporting SWEEP’s Buildings Program allows us to help communities harness the economic advantages of better energy efficiency and clean transportation programs for cleaner and healthier air, lower energy costs, and protection for our most climate vulnerable citizens.