New Building Codes Could Save Energy and Reduce Climate Impact, Says DOE

August 17th, 2021 by Rebecca Barnabi

New energy building code proposals from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) would save American homes and businesses $138 billion in the next 30 years in energy costs. Information released recently from the DOE claims its proposals would save an equivalent of $162 annually per residential home, while reducing the American building sector’s impact on climate change.

“More efficient building codes are key ways to eliminate wasted energy, lower Americans’ energy bills, and reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in the announcement. “These efforts to help states and localities adopt new, more efficient codes – along with President Biden’s plans to produce, preserve, and retrofit millions of homes – will provide Americans safer, healthier, and more comfortable places to live, work, and play.”

The new building codes would provide an energy savings of 9.4% for residential and 4.7% for commercial in comparison to a previous model energy code, according to a DOE analysis. The new codes would also collectively avoid 900 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, equal to annual emissions of almost 200 million cars.

“My point of view is the industry [fenestration] needs help to move forward in achieving what I would call more efficient windows,” says David Cooper, president of Fenestration Consulting Services Inc., meaning windows with improved thermal performance.

“There’s a steady march in the building codes to improve the thermal performance in fenestration,” Cooper says.

According to Cooper, states are behind in adopting legislation that supports the latest International Building Code requirements. The Department of Energy setting up an office to help drive a faster adoption of the codes “is well worthwhile” for the industry, he says.

The challenge for manufacturers, according to Cooper, has been creating products that meet different requirements from state to state.

The DOE’s new building code requirements “will help to foster adoption of the codes with better performance” of windows in homes, as well as unify building codes across the nation, Cooper says.

“I believe that there are a lot of window manufacturers due to limits in their scale that don’t have the resources they need to make decisions in regard to thermal performance,” Cooper says. While top manufacturers are well staffed to understand and engage in conversation about thermal performance, Cooper adds that the new building codes will create equity between all manufacturers to make improvements.

In the U.S., according to the DOE, heating, cooling and lighting 129 million homes and commercial buildings costs $400 billion a year, which creates 35% of the nation’s carbon emissions, 40% of its energy use and consumes 75% of its electricity. But 30% of that energy is wasted by buildings, officials say.

With new codes comes additional support from the DOE for state and local governments to increase technical support, the DOE proposal states, including updating to the new building codes, providing workforce education and training for industry workers as necessary, and emerging opportunities for more codes that further save energy, reduce pollution and use technologies such as electric vehicle charging. New building codes also portend job creation and economic benefits as the DOE works with states and localities to advance energy code policies, according to the DOE.

Cooper says that updating the codes across the nation for residential buildings “will only serve to reduce the waste of energy and make the specification of the fenestration product simpler.”

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