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The Making of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

When I first started working at Steven Winter Associates, I didn’t know that one day I’d find myself involved in the development of codes and standards that impact how our buildings get built. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I have learned a few things the hard way and thought they’d be worth sharing if you might be new to it.

So, here’s my very high-level summary of the code development process with respect to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), aka the “model” energy code. If you are looking for more detail, the ICC webpage has plenty of resources and a more detailed infographic than the one we’re showing and discussing here.

IECC Code Development Process Chart

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Call to Action: Voting Open Until December 6th on the Changes Proposed to the 2021 IECC

ICYMI: The code change proposals for the 2021 IECC are open for voting by Governmental Member Voting Representatives (GMVR) from Monday, November 18th through Friday, December 6th, and your vote is instrumental in making buildings consume less energy! [Need a quick refresher on the code process? Check out our blog post here!]

Does your vote even matter?

Overall, there are not actually that many voters on a given proposal. In the energy proposals, last cycle, it ranged from about 200-400 voters per proposal, even though there were a total of 1,247 voters on the Group B codes, which includes the IECC.

IECC voting numbers

So a small handful of voters can entirely shape the future of the energy codes that dictate how energy efficient our buildings will be! If history repeats itself, while some online voters tend to align with the Committee, many online voters align their votes with those cast by their fellow ICC voters at the Public Comment Hearings. This happened 81% of the time in 2016. Unlike 2016, in this cycle all the electronic votes cast during the Public Comment Hearings will be rolled into the online vote tally (although those voters can still change their vote).

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Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) are Coming to D.C., Are You Ready?

In January of this year, the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 was signed into law, establishing minimum Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for existing buildings. The law requires all private buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark energy use and demonstrate energy performance above a median baseline beginning January 1, 2021. If a building does not score above the median performance, it has five years to demonstrate improvement or face financial penalties.

While quite a few of the details on enforcement are still being worked out, the median scores will be based on 2019 building performance and there are actions you can take today to get ready for BEPS.

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What the Climate Mobilization Act Means for Developers, Designers, and Construction Teams

Image of central park and New York City buildigns

The construction industry has been increasingly focused on meeting ever-tightening codes and achieving higher ratings in sustainability certification programs (e.g., LEED, Passive House, etc.). These standards do a good job of raising the bar, but there is a new bar in town and we’re not talking about whiskey.

Local Law 97

NYC’s Local Law 97 of 2019 establishes carbon emissions limits for buildings 25,000 square feet and larger. These emissions limits, which are based on current building performance data, will begin in 2024 and will rachet down in 2030 and beyond. While we continue to work with building owners and portfolio managers of existing buildings (“What Does the Climate Mobilization Act Mean for Building Owners?”), we need to make sure that new buildings and major renovations are set up for success. Developers, designers, and construction teams must take LL97 into account during design, construction and turnover to protect the value of these new assets.

A developer or asset manager’s least favorite word is probably uncertainty, and now there’s a whole new host of uncertainties to think about:

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Five Steps to Get Started with Net Zero Energy Buildings

Net zero buildings are becoming increasingly popular, and some jurisdictions, such as Washington, DC, are projected to become code within the decade. Massachusetts will also begin development of a net zero building code. Curious if your building is a net zero contender or what it would take to reach net zero targets?

What Does it Mean to be Net Zero?

The term “net zero” commonly refers to zero-energy buildings. In simple terms, a zero-energy building is one that produces as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis. There can be nuances and caveats to this definition, but for now, we want to bring you up to speed on five key net zero energy strategies to consider if you’re interested in developing a net zero building.

1. Maximize space for on-site renewable energy.

How tall is your building?

  • Any building over five stories will be challenging, if not impossible, to achieve net zero with on-site renewable energy production alone because building energy demand will likely exceed available site area. Maximize your solar with a smart layout and consider if other renewables, such as geothermal, are possible.

    Image of roof layout

    Typical roof layout for multifamily building, including necessary setbacks for fire access, mechanical equipment access, and shading from bulkheads. Fire access is based on FDNY guidelines.

Do you have other spaces available for solar photovoltaics (PV)?

  • Your development may have a separate parking garage or parking lot on site. These are great places to install a PV system, which can significantly increase the amount of on-site renewable energy production and help make achieving net zero more of a reality.

Do I have to have all renewables on-site to be net zero?

  • If you don’t have enough room for on-site renewables, you can look into purchasing off-site renewable energy options, such as community solar, power purchase agreements, or renewable energy credits.

Now that you’ve considered renewables, let’s move on to net zero building design considerations.

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The Impact of Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager August 2018 Updates on NYC’s Local Law 33 Grades

Image of Letter Grades from SmartBuildings.NYC site

Letter grades are coming!

NYC’s building owners and real estate management firms now have one more thing on their plate to consider: Local Law 33 of 2018. LL33 compliance will assign letter grades to buildings required to benchmark energy and water consumption. The energy efficiency score will relate to the Energy Star Rating earned using the U.S. EPA Energy Star Portfolio Manager (PM).

The law will come into effect on January 1, 2020, and will utilize the previous year energy data to set the energy efficiency score and letter grade as follows:

Picture of Buildings, with quote "Your energy letter grade will be posted in your lobby in 2020. Are you ready?"A – score is equal to or greater than 85;

B – score is equal to or greater than 70 but less than 85;

C – score is equal to or greater than 55 but less than 70;

D – score is less than 55;

F – for buildings that fail to submit required benchmarking information;

N – for buildings exempted from benchmarking or not covered by the Energy Star program.

Why is my letter grade lower than expected?

Property owners should be made aware that if their property earned an energy efficiency score of 75 for the 2018 Benchmarking filing, the new score for the 2019 benchmarking filing may have fallen as much as 20 points. In LL33 terms, what could have been a letter grade “B” could now be “C” or “D” based on PM updates implemented in August 2018. Property owners will want to learn how the Energy Star PM update will affect their LL33 letter grade.

To understand the correlation and impact that the August 26, 2018 Energy Star PM update will have, it is important to look back at what took place as part of that update.

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Is It Too Late to Start On My Local Law 87 Compliance for 2019?

Before there was a Green New Deal in New York City, there was Local Law 87, which requires an energy audit and retro-commissioning report to be conducted and filed every 10 years. Yes, it still applies, and yes it will help you to understand the most cost-effective retrofits and upgrades to target for compliance with the city’s new energy efficiency requirements. Thanks for asking!

The question we get most this time of year from owners in NYC is, “My building is due for LL87 compliance this year, is it too late to start?!”

Image of Commercial BuildingsAs spring arrives, building owners often realize that time is quickly running out and this is the year that they must submit their building. Compliance with NYC’s LL87 (Local Law 87) can be overwhelming and hard to navigate but we are here to help.

Not sure if you have to file?  Check here.

LL87 requires that a building undergo an energy audit and retro-commissioning of major mechanical equipment. Keep in mind that it takes time to perform the inspections and testing. In fact, your best bet is to start in the year before your deadline, leaving yourself plenty of time for planning, budgeting, and implementing any corrections that may be required.

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Here’s What the Clean Energy DC Act Means for Existing Buildings in the District

Mayor signing legislationDistrict of Columbia Mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed a landmark piece of legislation known as the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act this past Friday. With the mayor’s signing, Washington, DC becomes one of the first jurisdictions in the country with a binding, comprehensive law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “It allows us to make significant improvements to the energy efficiency of existing buildings in the District,” Mayor Bowser said at the signing ceremony.

The new law has several sections which will impact the buildings in which DC residents and businesses live and work. In this post, we’re going to focus on Title III of the Clean Energy Omnibus Amendment Act, which is designed to make the city’s existing buildings more efficient.

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The Results Are in from the NYC Ice Box Challenge!

On April 21, 2018, two blocks of ice weighing exactly one ton each were placed into what appeared to be identical sheds in Times Square. The purpose? To measure how much each block would melt over a 30-day period, ultimately demonstrating the efficacy of Passive House construction methods.

The first shed, or Ice Box, was built to meet current NYC Building Code standards, which lack stringent requirements for building envelope performance. The second was constructed using building principles adopted from the Passive House Standard, including the utilization of high performance building materials, a superior airtight building envelope with advanced insulation, and triple-pane windows.

Graphic of Iceboxes

After 30 days of exposure, the Ice Boxes were publicly unveiled, and the results were exactly what building professionals had anticipated. The block of ice contained in the Ice Box constructed to NYC Building Code resulted in a final weight of 126 pounds, while the block of ice within the Passive House Ice Box weighed an astonishing 756 pounds, retaining 42% of its mass!

So, What Did We Learn… (more…)

The Energy Code of the Future: Modeling and Performance-Based?

It has been clear for some time that energy codes are on course to require carbon-free buildings by 2030. Adoption at the local level will see some areas of the country getting there even sooner. For example, California has set net zero goals for its residential code by 2020. These developments have accelerated the debate about the effectiveness of energy modeling versus performance-based approaches to compliance.

Chart: Improvement in ASHRAE Standard

Improvement in ASHRAE Standard 90/90.1 (1975-2013) with Projections to 2030. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 2015

Let’s start with energy modeling, where change is coming for the better. In the past, the energy modeling community has been required to continuously respond to energy code cycle updates with new baseline models. That is, the bar for uncovering savings would be increased each and every time a new energy code was adopted. Following a code update, program staff and the energy modeling community would have to go through another learning curve to determine where to set a new bar and how to model the changes. (more…)

Designing Solar for High Density Areas

As seen in:

Humans have been trying to harness the power of the sun for millennia. The advent and popularization of photovoltaics in the latter half of the twentieth century made doing so accessible to the masses. Today, solar arrays are commonly seen adorning the roofs of suburban homes and “big-box” retailers, as well as on other landscapes including expansive solar farms and capped landfills. Until recently, the common thread amongst these locations has been the employment of open space. Solar applications have historically been reserved for use in areas of low-to-moderate building density.

By the end of 2050, solar energy is projected to be the world’s largest source of electricity. While utility-scale solar will comprise the majority of this capacity, there will also be significant growth in the commercial and residential sectors – particularly in cities. Industry influencers are increasingly focused on creating opportunities for solar applications in high-density areas, where much of the demand lies.

In their 2014 Technological Roadmaps for solar PV and solar thermal electricity (STE), the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts Solar PV and STE to represent over 25% of global electricity generation by 2050In their 2014 Technological Roadmaps for solar PV and solar thermal electricity (STE), the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts Solar PV and STE to represent over 25% of global electricity generation by 2050.

 

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Solar Photovoltaics and New York Energy Code

Industry Trends

Over the past decade, the story of solar photovoltaic (PV) power has been one of both accelerating deployment and consistent, significant reductions in cost. This success has been driven by increasingly advantageous economies of scale, and supported by incentives and initiatives at all levels of government.

Figure 1. Solar PV systems have seen a dramatic reduction in cost

In late 2015, the federal Investment Tax Credit [3], a primary financial incentive for solar PV systems, was extended at its current rate of 30% through 2019, despite a contentious environment in Washington. It is scheduled to be stepped down through 2022, after which the commercial credit will expire and the residential credit [7] will remain at 10% indefinitely.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s annual solar benchmarking report [4] shows that over the past seven years, PV system costs have dropped 58.5% in the residential sector, 59.3% in the commercial sector, and 68.2% in the utility-scale sector. As a clear sign of the times, utility-scale solar achieved the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative’s goal of $1.00/W early this year, three years ahead of schedule [9]. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) [8], these trends should continue, leading to solar power’s increasing presence as a key component of the national electrical generation mix. The EIA projects solar to be the fastest growing form of renewable energy, increasing by 44% by the end of 2018 for a total deployed capacity of 31 GW and accounting for 1.4% of utility-scale electricity generation.

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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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2016 New York Energy Codes: Commercial Edition

By Sunitha Sarveswaran, Energy Engineer

Multifmily Buildings

Multifamily buildings greater than three stories follow the commercial section

It has now officially been over one month since the 2016 NYS energy code went into effect. In a recent blog post, we covered some of the significant changes for residential buildings in New York. In this post, we will explore the substantive changes made in the commercial code section, particularly with respect to envelope and air barrier requirements.

As a reminder, in this post, we are referring to retail, commercial, or larger than three-story R-2, R-3, or R-4 buildings. New York buildings can choose between one of two compliance pathways: ASHRAE 90.1 2013 or IECC 2015, by applying the appropriate state and city amendments. Prescriptive as well as performance options are available, depending on the chosen pathway. (more…)

2016 New York Energy Codes: Residential Section

By Steve Klocke, Senior Sustainability Consultant

A week has passed since the new energy code went into effect in New York State and New York City. Did you miss it? Hopefully not, but we thought it might be helpful to review some of the new requirements in the residential section (stay tuned for future posts on the commercial section).

Attached Single Family

Attached single-family dwellings follow Residential section.

In case you need a refresher on what constitutes a residential building, we’re talking about “detached one- and two-family dwellings and multiple single-family dwellings (townhouses) as well as Group R-2, R-3 and R-4 buildings three stories or less in height above grade plane.” Here are the documents you’ll need:
1. 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)
2. 2016 Supplement to the New York State Energy Conservation Construction Code (NYSECC)
3.2016 New York City Energy Conservation Construction Code (NYCECC)

New York City did us a favor and put everything into one document, but we weren’t so lucky with the state code – you’ll have to cross reference the supplement with IECC (links 1 and 2 above). All of the residential codes are now denoted with an “R” prefix (as compared to “C” for commercial).

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Air Sealing with Open Cell Spray Foam Insulation – Know the Risks

As the latest versions (2012 and 2015) of the International Energy Conservation Codes (IECC) push for more efficient homes, we are getting more questions from architects on how to achieve the air tightness requirements of 3 ACH50. There is no one correct answer, but it can be often achieved through taping of exterior structural or insulated sheathing, air sealing of wall cavities prior to insulating, and/or the use of insulation that is restrictive of air movement. The most common approach that we are asked about is the use of open cell spray polyurethane foam (ocSPF), as it is air impermeable (required thickness is dependent on the specific product, so check requirements in the ICC Evaluation Services Report), reasonably priced, and theoretically, doesn’t require any changes to standard builder practices. While it is true that ocSPF will provide air sealing cost-effectively, we typically do not recommend it in our cold climate region without additional measures due to risk potential over time. To effectively build a home with ocSPF, thoughtful detailing and a high level of execution is required to ensure that it remains effective 5, 10, 15…25 years from now.

ocSFP Window Flashing

While this wall assembly was not insulated with ocSPF, poor window flashing details are a common issue that we see and is one of the reasons we are cautious with this insulation approach.

  • ocSPF is vapor permeable, so there is a greater potential for condensation in the building enclosure than if closed cell spray polyurethane foam (ccSPF) is used. A hybrid approach of ccSPF and an alterative insulation (ocSPF, cellulose, fiberglass, etc.) is often used to keep costs down.
  • ocSPF can absorb 40% of water by volume. Therefore, if bulk water from leaks does make it into the building enclosure, the ocSPF will retain the water until saturated. Pinpointing the source of the leak may be difficult as the water can migrate within the foam.

Our main concern is that the performance of the product requires several trades to meet a high level of quality to ensure success and hope that the homeowners don’t unwittingly cause problems down the road through lack of maintenance. Here’s what we suggest…  (more…)