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Commercial Energy Code Field Study

Commercial Buildings

Commercial energy codes and standards reduce energy use in new and existing buildings, but savings are only realized if buildings are designed and constructed in accordance with the adopted code or standard. Therefore, understanding energy code compliance is critical to state and local governments to identify gaps related to energy code implementation and opportunities to provide compliance-improvement strategies. Energy code field studies – which analyze field-collected building measures to determine the lost energy savings associated with whole building and measure level energy code non-compliance – are an important tool to assess whether adopted state or local energy codes are providing the maximum benefits to businesses and residents.

A consistent and replicable approach to assessing energy code implementation is vital to utilities and others supporting compliance-improvement programs, providing the certainty they need to invest in increased efficiency through building code compliance. By developing the business case for energy efficiency, state and local governments will also have tools to allocate their limited resources more wisely and effectively, thereby reducing energy bills and energy-related pollution.

Commercial Energy Code Field Study

Previous commercial energy code studies assessed compliance based on a binary (yes/no) assessment of measures and did not estimate the corresponding lost energy and cost savings due to non-compliance. In 2015, DOE developed a methodology to assess the energy impacts of non-compliance and piloted the methodology in nine office buildings in climate zone 4C. This pilot study was later expanded to four states and two climate zones through a DOE FOA in 2016. The objective, methodology, and key findings from this effort are described below.

Objective: Measure the impact of energy codes on commercial buildings and identify opportunities for savings through increased compliance.


  • Develop a methodology to measure compliance and address challenges in commercial buildings
  • Construct a representative data set across target states {FL, NE, IA, NV} and climate zones {2A, 5A}
  • Target two building types: Medium Office and Retail buildings
  • Develop training materials based on findings and which can be leveraged by future educational activities


The detailed methodology, which includes the data collection protocol, sampling plan approaches, key measure descriptions, building types, and code references, is available at the link at the bottom of this section. In addition, the data collection forms which are described in detail in the methodology are also available.

Highlights from this updated methodology include:

  • 67 key measures were identified based on energy use impact
  • Assesses medium office and retail buildings in CZ 2A and 5A but could be expanded to additional climate zones and building types
  • Creates flexibility in sampling plan development and describes the necessary number of observations for statistical significance
  • Enables analysis of lost energy use and cost savings due to non-compliance
  • Identifies measures based on highest overall savings and savings per inspection time

Methodology and Data Collection Protocol (01/2023)

Field Data Collection Tools


Impact: Compliance with building energy codes is key to ensuring intended savings to U.S. home and business owners. This project successfully developed a replicable data collection approach and methodology to assess the energy impacts of non-compliance in select commercial building types. Although this project set out to collect enough measure level data to obtain statistical significance, post-processing demonstrated that additional data are needed for measure level statistical significance. However, this study provides critical insight into building level energy code compliance and guidance to which individual measures have the highest lost savings.

Results: The project team visited 230 buildings, covering over 6 million square feet of commercial office and retail space, in climate zones 2A and 5A. The lost energy cost savings as found during the field study was $189 per thousand square feet, with present value of $2,868 per thousand square feet, on average across all the buildings. The actual lost savings are likely underestimated, as only 69% of the applicable measures could be field verified due to site visit timing. Only four buildings were fully compliant with the energy code and had zero lost savings. Lighting controls and HVAC controls provide some of the largest as-found lost energy cost savings. To help prioritize inspection resources, the study assessed measures based on lost savings per total hours invested in verifying the measures in the field. The top five measures based on that assessment include: 1.) ERV Use, 2.) Mechanical Commissioning, 3.) Service Hot Water Pipe Insulation, 4.) Automatic Time Switch Control, and 5.) Lighting Commissioning and Functional Testing.

Final Technical Report:

Data Analysis of Energy Code Compliance in Commercial Buildings (01/2023)

Related Studies

Development of Lost Energy Cost Savings for Energy Code Compliance in Commercial Buildings (12/01/2020)

Implementation of Energy Code Controls Requirements in New Commercial Buildings (03/01/2017)

An Approach to Assessing Potential Energy Cost Savings from Increased Energy Code Compliance in Commercial Buildings (02/01/2016)

Commercial Building Energy Code Compliance Literature Review (02/01/2016)