Building Industry Struggles to Comply with Energy Codes

Event: Energy Codes, The Audit Procedure, and New Trends
Location: Center for Architecture, 07.16.09
Speaker: Deborah Taylor, AIA, LEED AP — Chief Sustainability Officer of Technical Affairs, NYC Department of Buildings
Organizer: AIANY Building Codes Committee


Page from the DOB presentation for Frequent Errors found in auditing for NYS Energy Code compliance, available here.

Courtesy NYC Department of Buildings

Even though the New York State Energy Code has been in effect for more than 30 years, recent upgrades are making apparent the fact that the building industry lacks an understanding of energy efficiency. Deborah Taylor, AIA, LEED AP, the chief sustainability officer of technical affairs for the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB), explained the current thinking from the department on how changes in the NYS Energy Code will shape the industry, particularly in the application process for existing and new buildings.

Most of the architectural projects in NYC involve work on existing buildings, which “must be a central strategy for PlaNYC,” Taylor believes. This year, an Earth Day package of energy bills for existing buildings was introduced, including legislation for a NYC Energy Conservation Code (ECC). The primary difference from the state code is that all new construction must comply — including work in less than 50% of the scope of the project. The code would establish the basis for additional legislation to reduce energy consumption in buildings, Taylor noted.

The ECC presents several challenges for designers in terms of demonstrating and reaching compliance. “Soft audits” of projects began in 2008, and formal audits will begin in October 2009. The results thus far indicate that “the industry does not know the energy code,” Taylor said. One of the main requirements for demonstrating compliance is the Energy Analysis of the building envelope, mechanical/service, hot water, lighting, and power systems. Designers may utilize one of four options: tabular comparative analysis for alterations; REScheck for residential dwellings three stories or fewer; COMcheck for commercial or other building types; or the Energy Cost Budget Method per ASHRAE 90.1. For the audits, designers must provide supporting documentation that shows consistency with the values in the Energy Analysis.

The most frequent errors that designers make, according to Taylor, include not providing an Energy Analysis, using the incorrect analysis format, and not providing heating and cooling systems or lighting (required for commercial but not residential) in the analysis. Even though electrical plans aren’t required, they can prove to be important supporting documentation, Taylor stated. The bottom line for complying with the Energy Code is to “make sure the values in the Energy Analysis find their way into the drawings.” More information is on the DOB website.