Architect Alert: Waxman-Markey Has a Big Impact on Building


Zerofootprint: Reskinning Buildings

Many people are screaming that the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) doesn't go far enough; when architects, builders and building code officials get through it, there will be a lot of screaming that it goes way too far. No doubt they will complain that an industry on the ropes can't handle more regulation and higher standards, we have heard it all before. But 46% of our greenhouse gases come from buildings, so it is a key part of any attempt to reduce emissions.

And it will make a difference, because they are tough new rules.


Different states follow different energy rules, and the gray ones have no statewide rules at all.

Shari Shapiro, who provides "pre-consumer, non-recycled content regarding green building and the law" on her site Green Building Law, and her collaborator Chris Cheatham at Green Building Law Update, struggled through it. I recycle some of her content:

1. National Codes

The Act establishes a "national energy efficiency building code" for residential and commercial buildings. This will be highly contentious; it has traditionally been a state or local issue. Shari notes that thirteen states have no statewide commercial building codes, and fourteen states have no statewide residential building code.

No doubt the States Rights types will say that their codes respond to local conditions, and that a blanket federal code cannot. But it will be a lot easier for architects and manufacturers to operate when there is some consistency. When I practiced architecture, I had to work with a building code that covered a territory that ranged from temperate at the south to arctic at the north, and quite capably handled it with maps and tables that adjusted requirements for degree-days, snow loads and other climactic differences, it's not that difficult.


2. Radically tougher standards of energy efficiency.

"on the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, 30 percent reduction in energy use relative to a comparable building constructed in compliance with the baseline code effective January 1, 2014, for residential buildings, and January 1, 2015, for commercial buildings, 50 percent reduction in energy use relative to the baseline code; and January 1, 2017, for residential buildings, and January 1, 2018, for commercial buildings, and every 3 years thereafter, respectively, through January 1, 2029, and January 1, 2030, 5 percent additional reduction in energy use relative to the baseline code."

30% reduction in energy use immediately. 50% in five years. That is perfectly achievable with today's technology in the residential sector, but it costs money and the builders are going to scream.

Much also depends on how they calculate the reduction. Will it simply be that standards for insulation will be cranked up 30%, or will they look at the entire building's use of energy, which may mean better planning, actually thinking about which way a house faces, tighter construction standards and better quality? How will they cope?

In the commercial sector it will be even harder- they are pretty much electrically driven, running air conditioning. 50% improvement in five and a half years will mean better equipment, better glazing, better design. I can hear them screaming already that these costs will be another tax on business at a time that they can't afford it.

They will ignore the point that the upfront higher costs are amortized over the life of the building whereas the occupant will get a 50% reduction in operating costs. Builders don't care about operating costs, they only care about capital costs that they have to borrow money to cover. So strong legislation and codes are the only thing that will ever make them do anything.

3. Government Programs to help

More money is being put into the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) programs-

to facilitate building retrofit programs for energy efficiency and efficient water use. Funding will be made available through REEP to the State Energy Programs for state and local efforts, including audits, incentives, technical assistance, and training. States are permitted to choose funding mechanisms, with options including credit support, such as interest rate subsidies or credit enhancement, providing initial capital, and allocating funds for utility programs.

4. Conclusions:

There is a reason that building and planning codes are local: the real estate industry is the biggest financial contributor to the election campaigns of local politicians, and the builders get what they want in the regulations. Federalizing the code will be fought tooth and nail by local and state politicians who will see it as a direct attack on their biggest source of income. At the local and state level they are concerned about Bob the Builder making houses and keeping Larry the Lumber Guy selling 2x4s, not about global climate change. But climate change is a global and national issue, and has to be dealt with at that level.

More Detail at Green Building Law

We have our own ideas about what should be in building codes:
12 Big Steps to Make Building Better

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