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Commercial Code Compliance and New Construction Program Failures

By September 27, 2016November 7th, 2021Energy Rant

Earlier this year, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey of 2012. The prior release was 2003. The data do not paint a pretty picture for energy code effectiveness. Other data we are accumulating indicate new construction programs are failing to deliver.


At first glance, it seems substantial progress may have been made between 2003 and 2012. The first chart is from the EIA website. As EIA states, “the only statistically significant changes since 2003 are for office buildings, education buildings, and commercial buildings overall.” That is weak, especially considering that the data cover all buildings built at any time in the past 100 years.

The second chart shows changes in consumption by end use. Space heating and lighting energy use show substantial improvements. Everything else increases rather dramatically. The EIA states the heating decrease is due to a shift of more construction in the south. In my opinion, that is possible, but it won’t have the impact shown. Remember, the data represent all buildings and not just new ones. It may be due to better envelope measures, more insulation and better windows, including retrofits. Energy simulators show that insulation does not help cooling energy consumption nearly as much, if at all, as compared to heating consumption.

The most damning thing that EIA doesn’t show is energy intensity by year of construction. Data in the chart to the right show energy intensity (usage per square foot) by year of construction for both electricity and total in Btu. Considering that older buildings built in the 1970s through 2003 included old technologies, less insulation, and poorer envelopes (in theory), it is a sad state of affairs that buildings built in the most recent period, 2008-2012, are no better than any other period.

Why do New Buildings Suck?

This article from Facility Executive comes close to answering this question. They say, “the building industry [and design business, I would add] appears to be caught in the classic conundrum of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Boy, I’ll say.

A Challenge

First of all[1], does anyone on the architect and engineering (A&E) team, or construction team, even look at energy performance post implementation? The answer is, no. I challenge any architect and/or engineering firm to show me energy performance results of their designs – all of them, even if they only cover those projects built in recent years. If anyone can even demonstrate that they look at building performance one, two, or more years after construction, you will get a free ad on this blog, the prestigious Energy Rant. The results don’t even need to be good. I will be stunned if anyone is doing this.

I’ll eat crow if anyone comes forward with data to prove they are tracking results. I’ll bet braised breast of crow is no less palatable than fried salmon skins, which I have eaten before. Why would I eat fried salmon skins? Because friends and I were closing a sushi joint down for the day and the skins were offered to us for free. I’ll try anything from a kitchen at least once.

Facility Executive is correct that building efficiency has merely improved through widget implementation, mainly the tubular light bulb, as demonstrated above. Insulation requirements have increased substantially as well. It is hard to screw that up, and so that is my explanation for much of the reduced heating energy consumption.

Facility Executive states that these components are not integrated into holistic designs. Hooey! With substantial reductions in lighting energy consumption shown above, why is cooling energy increasing, while heating energy consumption is decreasing? The opposite should be happening. Lights are heaters and reducing their power reduces cooling loads and increases heating loads.

Architects and Engineers Collaborate?

Facility Executive suggests “architects and all engineering disciplines must engage in a collaborative analysis and design effort.” The first thought that comes to my mind is engineers don’t need architects to dork up energy performance; believe me. I wouldn’t blame architects for energy waste, but I also wouldn’t give them credit for savings. Our office building in La Crosse was built in the early 1900s, and just as the graphic demonstrates above, it has very low energy intensity. Yet it has enormous windows and no wall insulation. It has massive brick and mortar walls. Theoretically, by code, by energy program, etc., our building would be an energy disaster, but it is in the 90th percentile of efficiency.

Advanced Controls?

Facility Executive says effective, sophisticated, and well-supported controls are vital for efficiency. No! If the HVAC system needs sophisticated controls the HVAC system is the wrong type. Here is what efficient controls look like:

  • Give me heating or give me cooling.
  • Give me ventilation when I need it.

The end.

If you want to get fancy, install demand controlled ventilation with CO2 sensors.

A Devastating Case

Readers can Google the Energy Rant and our website for the secrets of high performing buildings. If you are a regular reader, you already know the answers.

In the meantime, through multiple commercial new construction evaluations and analyses, we are establishing a devastating[2] case to put the money where my mouth is. That is building toward a future “scholarly” paper. In the meantime, I love talking about this stuff. Call me.

[1] Love that term.

[2] Devastating = indisputable

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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