The Challenge of Energy Codes in New and Old Buildings

Shonn Mills
Global Director, High Rise
Ramboll Group, Singapore

As energy codes continually become more stringent, architects and engineers must overcome hurdles during the next 50 years to make sure their building designs comply with them, while older buildings face the challenge of adapting to them.

The history of ASHRAE 90.1 and IECC shows there’s a trend in lowering the energy-use intensity of new construction toward the goals of the Architecture 2030 Challenge. ASHRAE 90.1 energy-efficiency performance improved by 43% from 1989 to 2016; New York City has adopted the 2018 Stretch Code, calling for a 20% minimum energy improvement, and Chicago has adopted IECC 2018, requiring a baseline of ASHRAE 90.1 2016.

As codes improve energy efficiency, it’s harder for designers to outperform baseline requirements (in fact, what used to be energy conservation measures are now requirements). The renovation and re-design of the Willis Tower Podium is a great example of the challenges of designing to the current code while simultaneously overcoming the performance of existing building equipment.

In some cities, existing buildings are required to comply with benchmarking ordinances or laws. Starting in 2019, the City of Chicago will be the first city to enforce an Energy Rating System, requiring a building to benchmark and publicly display their rating. This transparency into an existing building’s energy consumption will provoke discussion for corrective action.

ENERGY STAR is a great tool for existing buildings to compare their energy use to similar buildings nationwide. Like energy codes, ENERGY STAR updates its baseline, making it harder to achieve certification and thus encouraging buildings to evaluate their energy continually.

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