Step 5. Determine Crucial Components of the Energy Code: Scope and Applicability, Format, Adoption Date, and Effective Date


There are four crucial components that must be considered during the adoption process: scope and applicability, format, adoption date and effective date. The scope of a code dictates which requirements will be covered by the code while the format relates to the manner in which code requirements are presented. Based on the energy goals of a state or jurisdiction, the scope and format of a code will greatly influence which code is selected for adoption and the adoption process used. For example, if a jurisdiction wishes to include only the HVAC system in its local code, a national model code may be amended to reflect these changes or a locally developed code may be drafted.

Similarly, if a state is interested in energy savings based on how a building operates once constructed, an outcome-based or performance code would be selected over a code with a prescriptive format.

The code selected for adoption also determines which buildings will be affected by the code and when. It is possible to choose to apply the code to specific buildings rather than all commercial and/or residential structures. Furthermore, when adopting a code, it is important to consider the ideal effective date. The date that a code is adopted and the date that same code goes into effect are often spread apart to give ample time for all practitioners to become familiar with code requirements.

Scope and Applicability of the Code

The scope of an energy code can include attributes, components, and devices that affect the energy efficiency of a building. In most energy codes for residential buildings, the evaluation criteria are generally less comprehensive in terms of complexity than the criteria for commercial buildings. Most residential building energy codes contain requirements for:

  • Building thermal envelope, including opaque envelope, fenestration, and foundations
  • HVAC systems, including equipment and controls
  • Service water heating systems, including equipment and controls
  • Interior lighting systems.

In commercial buildings and large multifamily residential structures, the number of energy-using systems, equipment, appliances, and components is increased. As a result, most commercial building energy codes contain requirements for the following components of a commercial building:

  • Building thermal envelope, including opaque envelope, fenestration, and foundations
  • HVAC systems, including equipment and controls
  • Service water heating systems, including equipment and controls
  • Power systems such as transformers and wiring
  • Lighting systems, both interior and exterior, including fixtures and controls
  • Other equipment such as motors and elevators, vending machines, laundry services, commercial cooking, and process exhausts
  • Renewable energy systems.

The scope of the energy code can vary widely. For example, the scope could consider just one or two building elements, virtually every component in the building, or just the energy-using components and systems on the building site. Starting from the narrowest scope, the items most likely to be covered in the scope of an energy code are products, materials, equipment, appliances, and building components that are manufactured at the national or global level and sold nationally or internationally.

Understanding the scope of a code will allow adopters to select the most appropriate code for meeting their energy goals.

The code support infrastructure should determine which systems and building components are crucial to constructing energy-efficient buildings in regards to the specific climate zone, available material, and efficiency goals.

Model codes may be amended to exclude unnecessary requirements or include additional requirements that are state or jurisdiction specific.

Educating stakeholders and code practitioners on the code requirements as presented in the scope of the code will build support for the adoption of an energy code. Groups or individuals that comprise the code support infrastructure are better able to provide education, encourage outreach, and spread awareness of an upcoming code adoption or update when a general understanding of code requirements is achieved. DOE has developed detailed materials to assist states in understanding the scope and requirements of national model codes and standards. See Resources 1-7 in this step for more information on what tools and materials are available.

Furthermore, the adoption process and the code or standard adopted determine which buildings will be covered by the energy code. The energy code may be drafted to include all building types or specific facilities only (e.g., state-owned or state-funded buildings or private sector buildings). The Alabama State Building Code, for example, applies only to "state building and construction, schoolhouses, hotels, and moving picture theaters."8

Code Format

The format of an energy code determines how the provisions of an energy code are presented. From micro to macro, the code can provide specific criteria for each aspect of the building, include provisions for a specific system in the building, or cover the building as a whole. The code format can drive the scope of the code and influence which code best suits the needs of a state or jurisdiction. Energy code formats include prescriptive, component performance, total building performance, outcome-based, peak energy capacity, and alternative guidelines. For more detailed information on code format, see Resource 8 in this step.

Adoption and Effective Date

Code adoption policies require states and jurisdictions to adopt or update mandatory and voluntary energy codes. However, the point in time that the code is adopted does not necessarily coincide with when it goes into effect. In the case of voluntary adoption, the date of adoption is generally the same as the effective date because the entity making the decision to (or not to) adopt the code would logically be applying that decision immediately. An exception to this could be a large commercial property owner, lender, or other entity that could adopt the code and require compliance on a specific date a few weeks or months in the future simply to allow time to gear up for the process of ensuring compliance.

When adoption is achieved through law or regulation, there is generally a future date specified after the date of adoption at which time the code becomes effective. This can be 3 months, 6 months, or even a year. In addition, some adoptions will provide a grace period where the predecessor code can be used for a set period of time if the designer so chooses. This period of time between the adoption date and the effective date is generally part of the adoption process for several reasons.

  • Buildings may be in different stages of design and construction such that switching codes on a specific date cannot work when the building planning, design, and construction process involves months if not years.
  • The building design, construction, and code community need time to learn the new code.
  • Manufacturers and their distributors need time to gear up to provide products, materials, systems, and building components that meet the new code.
  • Lenders, realtors, etc. need time to gear up to affect updated lending or sales programs.

Code adoption policies may also require the one-time adoption of a code or mandate a specific time period in which a state must adopt or upgrade to the latest version of a model energy code. Some states adopt or revise energy codes in concert with the publication of a new edition of model energy codes and standards, such as the ICC, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, National Fire Protection Association codes, or ASHRAE standards. This may occur either through a legislative or regulatory process or when the state regulation or legislation cites the most recent edition, in which case the adoption may occur automatically without formal action.

The date of a new adoption and the date at which the adopted code becomes effective can also be tied to the publication date of an energy standard. For example, jurisdictions may require that a new code become effective 3 months from the publication of the model energy code. Other states may review the new editions on a case-by-case basis without a designated timeline when considering adoption.


It is recommended that all entities involved in the adoption of an energy code are familiarized with the scope of the code prior to adoption to enable effective communication, education, and outreach during the adoption process. Knowing the requirements of the code prior to adoption permits code practitioners to better prepare for code modifications, thus encouraging successful code enforcement and compliance.

The format of the code should be determined based on the resources available to the state or jurisdiction and the energy goals established by the individuals involved in the code adoption process. Different formats require a higher level of resources, including time and money, to determine compliance than others. Outcome-based codes, for example, may require inspections post-occupancy and commissioning to determine that the building energy use is in compliance with the requirements of the code. Conversely, a prescriptive code may simply require inspection during the construction phase of a project to determine compliance or the builder may be able to self-certify that the building meets the prescriptive requirements of the code.

When determining the time at which the adopted code will go into effect, select a date that will best prepare practitioners for the code change. In the time between the adoption and effective date, encourage stakeholders and other entities to provide education and outreach.


  1. 2012 IECC Commercial Scope and Envelope Requirements
  2. BECP Code Notes
  3. BECP Brochures
  4. BECP Research
  5. BECP Software and Tools
  6. Building Energy Codes Training
  7. BECP Resource Guides
  8. Compliance Verification Paths for Residential and Commercial Energy Codes
  1. Alabama Building Commission Chapter 170-X-1, Section 170-X-1-.03 (e).