Summary

Currently, building codes are mostly developed by national organizations, adopted by states, and enforced by local governments with assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy. But improvement, adoption, and compliance are all inconsistent. An important provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) would set national targets for code improvements of 30 percent savings starting now, and 50 percent savings starting in 2014, provide major financial assistance to states and localities in adopting and enforcing energy codes, and provide a federal backstop if state or local governments fail to act. If fully implemented, such improvements could provide immense savings to consumers and avoid 250 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030.

On June 22, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing about the role that building codes can play as an effective climate change mitigation strategy. Buildings consume about 40 percent of all energy used in the United States and are responsible for about 37 percent of carbon emissions. Building energy codes are a key tool in spurring efforts to make all new American homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient, thereby reducing energy use, energy bills, and greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Energy use in buildings accounts for approximately 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, but much of this is wasted through inefficient technologies and construction practices. Building codes are the cornerstone of effective energy policy.
  • States such as Massachusetts are showing that this is not an issue of federal policy vs. state policy, but rather there are states that do welcome and encourage national building codes to speed up the process of improving efficiency in buildings.
  • Current state programs and voluntary national programs such as Energy Star and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System are good, but are not moving us fast enough or far enough. National energy efficiency requirements are needed.
  • The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 addresses building energy efficiency in sections 201 through 204. Section 201 provides for greater energy efficiency in building codes and moves the nation forward to complement and enhance efforts at the state level.
  • A 30 percent improvement in building efficiency is achievable now and is cost effective without subsidies. A 50 percent improvement by 2015 is also achievable.
  • Zero energy buildings have already been built in Massachusetts and other cold-climate states, but marketing them takes time and resources.
  • Existing buildings must also be addressed. Labeling that discloses building energy use would let homebuyers, real estate investors, and prospective tenants know their potential energy bills and enable market forces to work.
  • Next to mortgage payments, the cost of operating a home is the highest payment a homeowner will make; lowering this monthly expense through energy efficiency makes housing more affordable.
  • As a relatively small green homebuilding company, Cobblestone Homes demonstrates that Energy Star qualified homes can be affordable; its starter home sells for around $160,000.
  • If all states were to improve codes by 2030, we could save 8 percent of total building energy use, $28 billion in consumer energy bills, and offset the equivalent emissions of 46 million cars.

Speaker Slides