House Bill Would Ratchet Down Energy Codes Significantly

Julie Ruth
July 9, 2009
COLUMN : Code Arena | Codes & Standards

I was discussing the American Clean Energy and Security Act with my oldest son a while back. I explained that it had started out as a bill by these two representatives Waxman and Markey, who had brought it before the House Energy Committee, where it had been passed. At the time of our conversation, it had recently been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

“So now it has to go to the Senate,” I explained to my son. “I know, Mom. I remember School House Rock,” he replied.

For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 80’s or 90’s, or have children who grew up then, School House Rock was one of the television industry’s responses to legislation that required a certain amount of educational content in every hour of programming targeted to children. It was an example of the U.S. government entering directly into our homes–in this case, every Saturday morning.

So my son understood that this document, which had started out as the Waxman/Markey bill, became designated H.R. 2454 and had been passed by the U.S. House, still needs to go before the U.S. Senate for approval. As usually happens , the U.S. Senate is working on its own version. If it passes, then the two bills will be sent to committee to have the differences worked out.

This column focuses on what has been passed by the U.S. House–which is also referred to as the climate change bill or cap-and-trade bill–with regards to building codes. The Senate version contains similar provisions, but those provisions, and ultimately, the final version, of the act has not been determined, and we don’t know for sure that it will become law. But the implications of just the House version, with regards to your products, are significant.

The House version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act would require the establishment of national energy efficiency building codes for residential and commercial construction. Further, the act establishes the following targets for energy reduction, to be achieved by the national energy efficiency building codes:

  • 30 percent reduction in building energy use relative to a building constructed in accordance with the baseline code, effective on the day of enactment of the Act.
  • 50 percent reduction, effective January 1, 2014 for residential buildings and January 1, 2015 for commercial buildings,
  • 5 percent additional reduction, relative to a building constructed in accordance with the baseline code, every three years from 2017 for residential and 2018 for commercial, through 2029 for residential and 2030 for commercial (i.e., total reduction over the baseline code is 75 percent),
  • Further reduction each three years after 2030, to be established by the U.S. Department of Energy, with the ultimate goal of achieving net zero energy commercial buildings.
  • A lesser target can be established by DOE at any time after the enactment of the act, if it determines the lesser target is the maximum life cycle cost-justified and technically feasible reduction in energy use that can be achieved through a code.
  • A greater reduction shall become the new target if, after any of the effective dates, a successor code to one of the baseline codes provides a greater reduction.

The baseline codes are:

  • The 2006 International Energy Conservation Code for residential buildings
  • ASHRAE 90.1–2004 for commercial buildings

The responsibility for the establishment of the national building energy code would rest with DOE.  According to the act, DOE is to review all candidates, including the successor codes to the baseline codes, and determine if they meet the targets outlined above.

Now any time a government body considers putting in place this type of legislation, it is said they can choose between a carrot or belt approach to encourage compliance–the carrot offering an incentive for compliance, the belt providing punishment for noncompliance.

The provisions of this act take the carrot approach. But the carrot is offered to the jurisdictions that would be enforcing the code. States are offered a minimum of $500,000/year, up to a total of $100 million a year for DOE to distribute to all jurisdictions, to encourage the implementation of plans, improvement of energy codes and over all promotion of building energy efficiency through the use of codes. The funds are to be distributed by DOE to jurisdictions that are either found to be in compliance, or making “significant progress towards compliance.”

To be in compliance, a state or local jurisdiction must demonstrate that 90 percent of new or renovated buildings constructed within their jurisdiction within the past year comply with the code, and that the excess energy use for the remaining buildings is not greater than 5 percent over building built to the baseline code. If a state has not been certified as being in compliance, a local jurisdiction (such as a county or city) can apply to be recognized as being in compliance, and therefore eligible for funds from DOE. To be considered as making “significant progress towards compliance” a state or local jurisdiction must present a plan for achieving compliance within 8 years, and have 80 percent of its new or renovated buildings be in compliance within 5 years, with the excess energy use of other buildings being no more than 10 percent over buildings built to the baseline code.

Now, what does all this mean to you, the window manufacturer? It means if this act passes, DOE may be offering states and local jurisdictions some significant incentives to enforce ever more stringent energy codes. And this isn’t going to end with just a 30 percent reduction in total energy use. They will continue to push this closer and closer to zero net energy use buildings.

Once again, the U.S. government is attempting to enter our homes, presumably for our own good. I think I prefer School House Rock.


Code Arena is brought to you by the America Architectural Manufacturers Association. Julie Ruth may be reached through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at