Energy Codes

About Energy Codes

Buildings account for more than 40 percent of energy used in the United States (and even more in urban areas). Building energy codes offer a cost-effective way to achieve energy savings in residential and commercial buildings, both for new construction and major renovations. They are also an established tool for states and municipalities to reduce energy bills, reduce emissions, increase durability and resiliency, and improve the health and safety of buildings. Energy codes set the minimum construction standards for the area and offer several different flexible pathways meeting the requirements.

In recent years, newer energy codes and standards have reduced new and renovated building energy use by over 30 percent from the mid-2000s. 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.

The energy codes and standards are drafted in open public forums which allows all stakeholders and interested or affected parties 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. State and local jurisdictions then can adopt or modify it, typically at the same time as other model codes (fire, plumbing, mechanical, etc.) Today the International Code Council (ICC) provides free access to all of their building codes online which eliminates concerns of building code access and costs.

Challenges abound to advancing more efficient building energy codes. As an example, adoption can be sporadic and implementation, compliance and enforcement can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, utilities, municipalities, and states allow and in some cases incentivize the construction of “above code” or “beyond code” buildings—exceeding the efficiency of the baseline energy code or standard. Utilities and municipalities provide incentives to builders to go beyond and construct buildings to voluntary programs such as the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program or USGBC’s LEED program.

Energy Codes in the Southwest

Each southwest state operates differently for the adoption of energy codes and standards. Although most states in the country adopt a mandatory statewide code, southwest states each have variations. Utah adopts a statewide mandatory energy code, and all local jurisdictions must update their building codes to align with 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 is more of a guideline. Colorado requires that jurisdictions adopt at least one of the three most recent versions of the IECC 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.

Here’s a snapshot of current state and local code adoption status in the southwest states. Download the PDF here

SWEEP’s Role in Energy Codes

SWEEP encourages all states and local jurisdictions in our region to adopt the latest and most efficient energy codes, as well as to provide enforcement and boost compliance rates. We work with many organizations in the states to support advancement of the energy codes and standards, increase energy code compliance through training and education, and support municipalities with local amendments. SWEEP also works with utilities, state energy offices, code compliance collaboratives, and the building industry to support more efficient energy codes.  SWEEP participates in stakeholder groups, code development groups, ICC chapters, and others such as USGBC to reach these objectives.

Other Resources

  • Get in touch with SWEEP for questions or advice on energy codes, if your state or local jurisdiction in considering a newer energy code, you are looking to boost compliance or enforcement rates, or you are looking for resources on energy codes. Also, we’d love to talk with you about utility support for energy codes or above-code construction, zero-energy ready programs, or how energy codes fit in to the broader picture of energy savings.
  • Energy Codes are Life Safety Codes: A three-page primer on how energy codes protect health and safety of occupants, and are essential for building departments charged with ensuring habitable buildings.
  • Top 9 Reasons to Update to a Newer Energy Code: Keeping codes on an older, outdated version is like keeping your computer on Windows XP. Read all the reasons why it’s best to stay up-to-date.
  • 5 Trends and Observations in Energy Codes (Colorado Edition): Most of the high-construction areas of the state have already moved to a newer energy code, or are in the process of doing so. Read this and four other key observations.
  • Energy Codes Count Award: The town of Parker, CO saved $1.2 million in just a few years from adopting newer energy codes. Read how.