US to Strengthen Building Performance Standards


During the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual winter meeting last week, President Joe Biden announced that his Administration would be launching a Building Performance Standards Coalition dedicated to delivering cleaner, healthier and more affordable buildings.

The coalition is reportedly a first-of-its-kind partnership between 33 state and local governments, in addition to the states of Colorado and Washington, and builds upon the Department of Energy’s efforts to upgrade one million homes.

The progress made by the coalition will also aid President Biden’s efforts to retrofit four million buildings and two million homes during his first term.

Regulating Building Performance

According to reports, the coalition plans to outline new commitments to design and implement building performance standards at the state and local level, create good-paying, union jobs, lower energy bills for consumers, keep residents and workers safe from harmful pollution and cut emissions from the building sector.

The actions build on the $3.5 billion investment for home weatherization in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—which will make 700,000 homes more energy efficient and lower consumers’ electricity bills—and will make $1.8 billion available to expand building retrofits and policy implementation.

The White House reports that the New Buildings Performance Standards Coalition is supported by labor unions, philanthropy and non-governmental organizations. All those involved plan to come together to scale programs and policies to reduce emissions across the building sector.

Other actions made to strengthen building performance standards include:

  • Mobilizing federal assistance from the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Advancing state and local building performance standards;
  • Proactively partnering with the workforce;
  • Prioritizing equity expertise and stakeholder engagement;
  • Activating technical assistance; and
  • Enhancing support for EPA climate protection partnerships divisions.

Nearly 20% of the nation’s building footprint is located within the partnering jurisdictions, according to The White House. A full list of governments in the partnership include: the state of Colorado; state of Washington; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Annapolis, Maryland; Aspen, Colorado; Atlanta; Boston; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Chicago; Chula Vista, California; Columbus; Denver; Evanston, Illinois; Fort Collins, Colorado; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Ithaca, New York; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Milwaukee; Montgomery County, Maryland; New York City; Orlando, Florida; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Prince George’s County, Maryland; Reno, Nevada; Sacramento, California; St. Louis; San Francisco; Savannah, Georgia; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

The ultimate goal of the coalition is to advance legislation or regulation in each of the committed jurisdictions by April 22, 2024.

Previous Energy-Saving Efforts

Back in March 2020, New York City announced that it would be requiring that all new and existing buildings to meet stricter energy efficiency requirements under a new energy code approved by city council and passed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The 2020 NYC Energy Conservation Code ensures that buildings—the city's biggest polluters—are held to the highest standard of sustainability and efficiency. While the Energy Conservation Construction Code requires several mandates, many focused on building envelopes, and was just of the construction codes being updated by the Department of Buildings as a part of the Code Revision Cycle at the time.

The following month, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted to pass a Building Energy Performance Standards ordinance, which set new energy standards to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

The mandate, signed by former Mayor Lyda Krewson, set energy usage requirements for commercial, institutional, municipal and multi-family buildings that are 50,000 square feet or larger.

According to Catherine Werner, Director of St. Louis Sustainability, large buildings make up about 80% of the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions, which is why they were targeted by the new regulations. The ordinance also established a Building Energy Improvement Board (made up of nine members representing utilities, labor, affordable housing owners, tenants and commercial buildings), to review the energy usage for buildings with the goal of reviewing and updating the standards every four years.

It also created an office in the city’s building division to assist owners in reaching compliance with the standards, which they are expected to do by May 2025. The city as a whole has a goal of eliminating community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

By November, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors announced that they’d unanimously passed a new city ordinance, banning the use natural gas or other fossil fuels in all new residential and commercial building construction projects.

The decision made San Francisco the latest—and possibly the largest—U.S. city to ban natural gas in new buildings to date at the time. The new ordinance also complements legislation the city passed last year, transitioning private commercial buildings of 50,000 square feet and larger to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

The legislation was part of Mayor London N. Breed’s vision of an “all-electric City” in which 100% renewable electricity replaces the use of fossil fuels in the building and transportation sectors. According to the mayor’s news release, roughly half of the city’s emissions come from buildings, and a significant portion of those emissions are released from the commercial sector.

Breed first unveiled the plan amending San Francisco’s existing environment code for all non-residential buildings on Earth Day in April 2019—a plan similar to New York City’s Climate Leadership Bill. However, instead of cutting emissions from the city’s largest buildings, San Francisco opts to specifically require buildings to run on electricity generated by 100% renewables, a first for U.S. cities.

In implementing the new legislation, the city is expected to reduce 21% of emissions from commercial buildings by 2030, when the entire city aims to run on 100% renewable electricity. Of the city’s total emissions, buildings and transportation are estimated to make up about 90%, respectively.

At the time the legislation was approved, San Francisco reported that the city had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 36% in comparison to its 1990 levels. San Francisco was also ranked as one of the top five cities for clean energy in July 2019 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit that promotes efficient energy policies.

In February of 2021, Seattle City Council unanimously approved Commercial Energy Code updates set forth by Mayor Jenny Durkan that seek to advance electrification throughout the commercial and residential building sectors.

The new ordinance also banned natural gas for space heating in new construction of commercial and multi-family residential buildings that are taller than three stories.

By September, California Energy Commission announced its adoption of the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Energy Code) for newly constructed and renovated buildings. The new energy codes are slated to produce benefits to support the state’s public health, climate and clean energy goals.

The CEC reportedly adopts standards every three years to cost-effectively increase the energy efficiency and lower the carbon footprint of buildings. In California, homes and businesses use nearly 70% of California’s electricity and are responsible for a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, each updated code guides the construction of buildings to better withstand extreme weather, lower energy costs and reduce climate and air pollution.

The 2022 update was slated to be submitted to the California Building Standards Commission, where it was scheduled to be considered sometime in December. If approved by the CBSC, the update would go into effect on January 1, 2023, giving builders, contractors and other interested parties a year to gear up for the changes.

Over the next 30 years, the 2022 Energy Code is estimated to provide $1.5 billion in consumer benefits and reduce 10 million metric tons of GHGs (equivalent to taking nearly 2.2 million cars off the road for a year).

That same month, the Boston City Council approved a new ordinance, requiring all buildings larger than 20,000 square feet to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050.

According to reports, the new ordinance will affect roughly 3,500 commercial and residential buildings, or about 4% of all structures in the city. Boston officials report that the structures account for 60% of the city’s building emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council adds that the policy was developed with feedback from residents most impacted by pollution and climate change. The city convened a Resident Advisory Group with community organizations including Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), the Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, and New England United for Justice and facilitated by One Square World, which leads community-centered planning and policy development rooted in equity and sustainability.

The process was also supported by NRDC, Building Electrification Institute, Institute for Market Transformation, and other partners in the American Cities Climate Challenge.

And most recently, in December, the New York City Department of Buildings announced the official passage of major legislation in the City Council to update the city’s Construction Codes with the aim of keeping the city on the forefront of building safety and innovation.

According to the DOB, there are more than 600 revisions and changes being made to the city’s codes. Most of the updates are slated to go into effect next year, with some updated regulations slated to have taken effect on Jan. 1.

In deciding on what revisions to make to the city’s codes, technical committees used the highest international standards for the design, construction and maintenance of buildings as a baseline. The committees were reportedly comprised of engineers, architects, attorneys, planners, tradespeople, representatives of the construction industry, labor, real estate industry and utility companies, as well as DOB and interagency stakeholders.

Although updated regularly regarding construction in both new and existing buildings, the latest slew of changes are the first holistic update to the entire set of NYC Administrative, Plumbing, Building, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Codes since 2014.

Code revisions are slated to be made to emergency response, fire protection, vertical transportation and accessibility, elevator and boiler safety, tenant protections, building occupancy, affordable housing, construction safety and building system construction and inspection enhancements.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Certifications and standards; Construction; Emissions; Energy codes; Environmental Controls; Good Technical Practice; Government; Green design; Greenhouse gas; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Regulations; Renovation

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