US Proposes Federal Building Standard


Earlier this month, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the first-ever performance standard for federal buildings to cut energy use and electrify equipment in 30% of building spaces owned by the United States government by 2023.

The Federal Building Performance Standard is the latest action by President Joe Biden in pursuant to his goal to achieve net-zero emissions in all federally owned buildings by 2045.

Green Standards for Federal Buildings

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy released new building energy code requirements for federal buildings and proposed new standards for residential room air conditioners, pool heaters and other consumer appliances.

The efforts are expected to save taxpayer dollars and ensure that the federal government leads by example in energy efficiency. The announcement followed President Biden’s slate of priorities outlined in the bipartisan infrastructure law.

“The Biden Administration is leading by example to cut energy use and reduce its carbon footprint by adopting the latest building standards that drive down operating costs and therefore save taxpayer dollars,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm at the time. “Coupled with the appliance standards proposed today for American households, DOE is reiterating our commitment to reaching net zero carbon emissions, improving our air quality and keeping more money in the pockets of families across the country.”

Given the proposed standards and new codes, the DOE estimates that together they could potentially save more than $15 billion in net costs over the next 30 years and reduce emissions equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 14.4 million homes over the same period.

During the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual winter meeting in January, President 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.

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.

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

Starting in April 2023, all new buildings and major retrofits constructed by the federal government must follow the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the 2019 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers Standard 90.1 building energy codes.

During the first year of its implementation, the DOE estimates that $4.2 million dollars in operating costs will be saved. In an analysis of states following the latest IECC building energy codes, the DOE found that consumers would see $3.24 billion in annual energy cost savings.

In further research, the DOE noted that residential buildings specifically would result in national site-energy savings of approximately 9%, source-energy savings of nearly 9% and energy-cost savings of more than 8% if they were following the 2021 standards versus 2018.

By the end of 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration intended to finalize more than 100 proposed and final actions for appliance and equipment standards.

What Now

At the beginning of the month, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the first-ever energy and climate performance standard for the federal government’s 300,000 existing buildings. Designed to jumpstart decarbonization in new and existing buildings, the Federal Building Performance Standard will electrify and cut emissions from new or newly renovated federal buildings.

According to the Administration, energy usage in federal buildings for space heating, water heating, cooking and other needs accounts for over 25% of federal emissions.

The new standard requires that new and renovated federal buildings achieve zero scope 1 emissions in 30% of their buildings by square footage by 2030. To reach that mark, agencies will reportedly be buying American-made products such as heat pumps, electric water heaters, and other energy-efficiency and building system technologies supported by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Once fully adopted, the new rule is expected to save $8 million per year in building costs. Over a 30-year span, the new rule is projected to reduce carbon emissions from federal buildings by 1.86 million metric tons and methane emissions by 22.8 thousand tons.

On the same day the announcement for the new standard was made, the DOE released a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on a forthcoming rule, Clean Energy for New Federal Buildings and Major Renovations of Federal Buildings, to support building decarbonization.

The new rule also aims to set emissions reduction targets and require equipment and appliance electrification in new Federal buildings as well as Federal buildings undertaking major renovations.

“Ridding pollution from our buildings and adopting clean electricity are some of the most cost-effective and future-oriented solutions we have to combat climate change,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

“For the first time ever, DOE is establishing a firm timetable to reduce the government’s carbon footprint in new and existing federal facilities—ensuring the Biden-Harris Administration is leading by example in the effort to reach the nation’s ambitious climate goals.”

The DOE is expected to host a webinar on Jan. 5, 2023, on the scope of the rule and the proposed implementation timeline.

Other Standard Pushes

Over the summer, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Biden-Harris Administration announced in a series of press releases that it would be launching a national initiative to advance building codes.

To announce the National Initiative to Advance Building Codes, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Deputy National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi traveled to Miami to meet with experts in climate resilience, building safety and efficiency on June 1.

According to a fact sheet released by the White House on the same day, the new building codes initiative will boost resilience to the impacts of climate change, lower utility bills for homes and businesses, and prioritize underserved communities.

The initiative sets out to help state, local, Tribal and territorial governments adopt the latest, current building codes and standards created to make communities more resilient to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and other extreme weather events that are intensifying due to climate change.

While the White House reports that nearly two out of every three communities have failed to adopt modern building codes, smart design or updated construction methods, earlier this year President Biden’s National Climate Task Force approved the new National Initiative to Advance Building Codes to accelerate the process.

The combination of efforts is slated to improve resiliency, create good-paying jobs and lower energy bills. Through the initiative, the Biden-Harris Administration will:

  • Comprehensively review federal funding and financing of building construction;
  • Harness $225 million in bipartisan infrastructure law funding for the Department of Energy;
  • Provide incentives and support for communities to adopt current building codes and standards; and
  • Lead by example across the federal building portfolio.

The Administration went on to note that communities that have already adopted modern building codes are saving an estimated $1.6 billion a year in avoided damage from major hazards, with projected cumulative savings of $132 billion through 2040—a figure that will become much higher if more communities adopt modern codes.

In an analysis where states were categorized based on building code uptake, FEMA found that 39 states fell into the lowest category—meaning that less than 25% of the state’s communities were covered by the latest hazard-resistant codes. On a nationwide scale, FEMA added that roughly 35% of counties, cities and towns have the latest codes in place.

To address this issue, in an all-of-government commitment made by the Biden-Harris Administration, key federal agencies will collaborate through a Mitigation Framework Leadership Group (MitFLG) to increase support and incentives for modern code adoption.

The federal government plans to achieve these goals by undertaking a comprehensive review of agency programs that support new construction or substantial rehabilitation of homes and other buildings, through grants, loans, funding, financing or technical assistance.

As part of this holistic review, which will be reported to the National Climate Task Force, additional specific efforts include:

  • FEMA will implement its new Building Codes Strategy;
  • DOE will deploy $225 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law; and
  • FEMA will utilize and update the Building Code Adoption Tracking portal.

Tagged categories: Building codes; Carbon dioxide; Carbon footprint; Certifications and standards; Emissions; Energy codes; Energy efficiency; Environmental Controls; Good Technical Practice; Government; NA; New Construction; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Renovation

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