Compared to cutting-edge technologies — nanotechnology, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, biomimicry — building codes seem downright stodgy and, dare I say it?, boring. Yet, much to the surprise of many, building codes are fast becoming the Titans in the battle against climate change. Able to fell with a single blow the giants on the other side of the battlefield — out-of-control greenhouse-gas emissions, thoughtless energy consumption, and gross energy inefficiency — building codes are beginning to look pretty darn sexy in their own right.
Buildings are responsible for approximately 48 percent of all energy consumption and GHG emissions in the U.S. Forty-eight percent. Let that sink in. The entire transportation sector is only responsible for 27 percent. To win the climate change battle, we must tackle the building sector.
Local governments are doing just that. They are among the real heroes of the climate change crisis. Shortly after Architecture 2030 issued the 2030 Challenge, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted Resolution 50, the challenge for all buildings in all cities. Since making that commitment, cities and counties across the U.S. have been working to implement its targets, particularly through building energy codes.
As the gatekeepers of building energy codes, local governments are in a uniquely powerful position to save the world by effecting change within the very sector that needs the greatest changes. They don’t need to wait for anyone else to come to their rescue; they are the knights in shining armor. Who knew?
Even so, without a clear relationship between the 2030 Challenge targets and existing building energy codes, many local governments have struggled in their attempts to move forward. To clarify this relationship and help governments clear this hurdle, Architecture 2030 recently released the following table of “code equivalents”, which are the additional reductions needed beyond the requirements of a particular code to meet or exceed the initial 50 percent reduction target of the 2030 Challenge. Now, to meet the 2030 Challenge, local governments simply need to amend their building energy code by adopting the appropriate code equivalent in the table.
How much will that cost? Nothing. It will actually save the building owner money.
According to a recent study by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the cost to implement the reductions called for by the “code equivalents” in a typical new residence is about $1.25 to $2.00 per square foot of building floor area. If this cost is amortized at 7 percent over a 30-year mortgage, the annual cost for a 2,000-square-foot residence is approximately $211. However, due to the significant reduction in energy consumption achieved by a 2030 Challenge building, the homeowner will save $723 on their annual utility bill. So, the net savings for the year is $512. And, as energy prices increase, the owner’s savings also increase.
If building codes aren’t sexy enough for you, surely extra money in your pocket is. And fortunately, amending your local building code to get these savings rolling is a local action. Each and every citizen can get in on the action by lobbying their local and state officials to amend their code.
To download the full report, Meeting the 2030 Challenge Through Building Codes, click here [PDF].
 The 2030 Challenge calls for 1) all new buildings and developments to be designed to use half the fossil fuel energy they would typically consume, i.e., half the regional or country average for that building type, 2) at a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area be renovated annually to use half the amount of fossil fuel energy they are currently consuming, and 3) the fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings be increased to 60 percent in 2010, 70 percent in 2015, 80 percent in 2020, 90 percent in 2025, and carbon neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG-emitting energy). Architecture 2030 recommends the fossil fuel reduction targets be achieved through design, the application of renewable energy technologies and/or the purchase of renewable energy (20 percent maximum). Additional information is available here.
 According to the 2006 DOE-supported study, Energy Impact Study of the 2003 IECC, 2006 IECC, and 2006 IRC Energy Codes for Nebraska, the energy consumption of an IECC 2003 or IECC 2006 code compliant residence is essentially the same.