The very first step in achieving energy code compliance is to know which energy code or standard is applicable to a project.
If a designer has been working in a particular jurisdiction for a long time, the answer may be obvious. On the contrary, if a designer is working on a building in a new jurisdiction, or if codes have recently changed (ASHRAE and IECC update their standards/codes every 3 years, and many states then adopt these updated codes), or if there is a question, it is good to know how to tell which energy code is applicable.
The applicable code can be identified by asking the local building department or code official or by referring to one of these sources of information: DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program (BECP) Status of State Energy Codes Database (Resource 1), the International Code Council’s (ICC) adoption database (Resource 2), and the Building Codes Assistance Project (BCAP) Status of Codes Database (Resource 3). Other potential sources of information are state, county, or local code websites listed in Resource 1.
There are several specific situations where the applicable energy code or standard is harder to determine. Some of those situations include states, counties, or cities with stretch codes or locally adopted codes rather than statewide codes, projects where a green building rating system is being used, and federal building projects.
States, Counties, or Cities with Stretch Codes or Locally Adopted Codes
Some states, counties, and cities are now adopting stretch codes—codes that go beyond the minimum code required for all buildings in a state. In some states that do not adopt a minimum code, any code adopted at the county or city level could be considered a stretch code by this definition. In other states that do adopt relatively stringent codes for all their buildings (e.g., Massachusetts and Oregon), stretch codes represent an opportunity to require even better buildings.
Stretch codes may include requirements that replace or expand the corresponding requirements in the base code. For example, if the ICC’s International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is used as a stretch code, it is assumed that a building will comply with the IECC and then go beyond that code to meet the additional requirements of the IgCC. Similarly, if ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1 is being used as a stretch code, it is required that the building comply with ASHRAE Standard 90.1 and then go beyond that standard to meet the additional requirements of ASHRAE Standard 189.1. Thus, designers could end up showing compliance to two separate but interrelated codes in a stretch code situation—the base code and the stretch code. See Resources 1–3 for some information on where stretch codes are in use, but also plan on checking with local code officials.
Home rule states are an example of locally adopted codes. In some states, the state does not have the authority to adopt a statewide energy code. Counties and cities may choose to adopt their own energy code, but they might not choose to adopt the same code. This can lead to a patchwork of old codes, new codes, and no codes, which can be tough for the build communities to follow. Resources 1–3 can provide information on locally adopted codes in home rule states, but again, plan on checking with local code officials.
Projects Where a Green Building Rating System is Being Used
Some projects are being designed under green building rating systems, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (USGBC LEED) rating system, the Green Building Initiative’s (GBI) Green Globes rating system for commercial construction, or the National Green Building Standard (ICC 700) for residential construction.
These green building rating systems are intended for buildings being designed “better than code” and, as such, minimum energy codes are met before points are awarded for improved energy performance. It is possible that the minimum energy code or standard called out in a green building rating system will be newer or older than the minimum energy code or standard required in a particular location. In this case, designers may need to show compliance with two different minimum energy codes or standards—one for energy code compliance to obtain an occupancy permit and another code to meet the prerequisites of the green building rating system. See Resources 4–5 for information on where prominent green building rating systems may be required.
The use of these green building rating systems may be “voluntary” in the sense that the design team or building owner has decided to go for green certification, or “mandatory” in the sense that there is an official requirement in locations that green certification be used for particular buildings.
Projects Where a Home Energy Rating System is Being Used
Many residential projects are being designed under rating systems such as the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and the National Association of State Energy Official’s Home Energy Rating System (HERS). The use of the HERS program may be “voluntary” in the sense that the design team or building owner has decided to have the building rated, “mandatory” in the sense that there is a requirement in a particular location that these systems be used for particular buildings, or “alternative” in the sense that the HERS rating system is allowed as an alternative to the building energy code. It is possible that showing compliance with an energy code and determining a HERS rating will require two different sets of documentation. See Resource 6 for more information on RESNET HERS.
Federal Building Projects
Projects that are completely owned by federal agencies are not bound by state or local codes. Instead, they must follow the codes adopted by the federal agency. Federal agencies are subject to several statutory requirements, executive orders, and other policies surrounding sustainable buildings and campuses. Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) removed the mention of federal buildings subject to state or local building codes from Section 303(6) of the Energy Conservation and Production Act (42 U.S.C. 6832(6)); therefore, all federal buildings are now subject to federal building energy efficiency standards. See Resource 7 for more information on federal building energy efficiency standards.
- BECP’s Status of State Energy Codes Database 
- ICC’s Adoption Database 
- Building Code Assistance Project Status of State Energy Codes 
- USGBC List of Public Policies Adopting or Referencing LEED 
- GBI Map of States with Laws Recognizing Green Globes 
- Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) Home Energy Rating System (HERS) 
- Federal Building Energy Efficiency Standards