Far from the limelight of LEED, Energy Star or Green Globes certifications are the energy codes developed and updated by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the International Code Council (ICC) through the support of the Department of Energy (DOE) as minimum guidelines for building envelope, HVAC, lighting and service water heating.

These guidelines slowly have pushed the needle on minimum standards and have led to an increase in energy efficiency of 30 percent. The industry is in the middle of a transition to the most recent sets of these standards; many states will be adopting updates in the coming months. As the bar continues to rise in building energy efficiency, and code enforcement efforts continue to increase, education institutions should understand the effect of the energy code changes, how they may affect current and future projects. Design and building team members need to work together closely in order to achieve the desired gains in efficiency.

Code conversion

The industry is in the middle of a code conversion.

All but 11 states have adopted either ASHRAE 90.1 or the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) as a statewide energy code. These guidelines are the foundation for nearly all energy codes, but they are updated only once every three years. The voluntary state adoption process further slows progress toward more efficient and consistent standards.

Recently, new versions of these codes were adopted at the federal level—ASHRAE 90.1 2010 and 2012 IECC. Over the next 12 to 24 months, many states and municipalities will be converting their code requirements to match these standards.

The updates in these standards represent some substantial changes from the most recent versions. ASHRAE 90.1-2010, for example, incorporates more than 100 addenda since the release of ASHRAE 90.1-2007. Some of these updates cover increased equipment efficiencies, an expansion of economizer and heat-recovery requirements, addition of "single-zone VAV," increase in skylight requirements, addition of a continuous air barrier, more stringent lighting power densities, increased daylighting controls, and the inclusion of commissioning requirements in 2012 IECC.

Although the intent of the updates is to increase building energy efficiency by 30 percent over ASHRAE 90.1-2004 and 2006 IECC, it may present financial and construction challenges if not anticipated properly. This is critical to understand when education institutions are budgeting for building, HVAC, lighting and service water heating systems for new construction or renovation projects.

Because compliance has been voluntary, some communities still are using codes that go back a decade. Designers and builders might not be aware of new technologies and design approaches. Schools should aim to meet the most recent standards for energy and economic benefit, not just to pass inspection.