Energy Efficient Buildings: When Building Code is Key

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, over the next 30 years, building energy codes are projected to:

  • save up to $126 billion in energy
  • reduce carbon emissions by 841 million metric tons
  • save 12.82 quads in primary energy

That's a savings equivalent to the combined emissions from 177 million passenger vehicles, 245 coal power plants and about 90 million homes! 

Energy codes can present significant cost savings to commercial and residential properties through energy efficiency, and it's estimated that roughly 75 percent of all existing commercial buildings will be upgraded or renovated by 2035.

But whether it's an existing building that needs to be updated with current energy codes or commercial facility that needs to account for building efficiency, architects and developers can run into some roadblocks along the way. What follows are some things to keep in mind.

Know the Energy Efficient Code 

Energy Modeling

The future of building is headed in the direction of both performance-based and outdoor-based compliance. Architects play a big role in the early modeling and planning stages of building development when it comes to energy efficiency.

Not only can better planning lead to a more efficient overall building, but it can also lead to a less expensive building to construct when all aspects of its development are taken into consideration.

Things to keep in mind during these early planning stages include modeling to minimize peak cooling and heating demand, and natural lighting, among others. Remember, there are energy milestones that buildings must hit in order to be in compliance with the codes. Modeling right from the start can help architects and building designers know where they can go to reach them.

Cool Roofs

All roofs have a shelf life. And roofs are also a major source of heat absorption, which can drive energy costs at various times of the year. What's more is that these energy costs can be significant for commercial buildings that are tens of thousands of square feet in size. That's where the cool roof can help.

Cool roofs use reflective material so that there's less heat absorption. In addition to making the indoor building environment more comfortable and limiting strain on HVAC equipment, taking less of a beating from the sun can also help extend the life of the roof itself. Going the cool roof or green roof route is a way to go above and beyond the code.

Advanced Framing

This suggestion is more for the residential home designer and developer, as doing this can help reduce the amount of materials needed to build a home and also minimize the home's burden on the environment following construction. Advanced framing is also commonly known as optimum value engineering, and the practice largely involves designing and building a home in a structurally sound way, but in a way that strategically uses lumber and other building materials. Advanced framing may permit builders to use 2 x 6 lumber, rather than conventional 2 x 4 lumber, in order to enhance insulation levels to meet energy efficiency requirements in either a commercial or residential structure.


One common area where architects and developers can become tripped up when it comes to energy codes - especially when it comes to commercial buildings - is the amount of insulation that is required in between each floor of the building and on the ground floor itself. Architects must ensure that there's adequate insulation to minimize air leakage, which can lead to an uptick in energy costs. There are requirements for insulation in the ceilings and in the walls of buildings as well.

HVAC Details

Energy codes help dictate the size and location of the HVAC equipment in a building as a means of helping a facility run more efficiently. Building codes pertaining to energy help take into consideration the minimum size said equipment needs to be relative to the size of the facility it will be installed in.

Building energy codes don't just help out the environment - they also help out the consumer. It's estimated that today's energy codes help buildings run about 30 percent more sustainably compared to 10 years ago, which accounts for a savings of about $60 billion in energy costs for U.S. consumers. Good for the environment and good for the consumer, it's crucial to stay up on energy codes. And one thing about energy codes is that they're always in flux and always being modified. So do you know the code?