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Energy Codes and Benchmarking: How Our Buildings Are Getting Better

Ira Grossman looks at the network of programs that exist today.

In response to growing concerns about America's energy consumption, an increasing number of Benchmarking and Energy Disclosure laws are being implemented in states across the country. Benchmarking is the process of measuring, comparing, and tracking an existing property's energy and water consumption. It is a critical step to understanding and reducing a building's energy consumption and carbon footprint. Energy efficient buildings will yield better returns and have increased value because of reduced operational costs. Before there was benchmarking there were state energy codes that set design standards for energy performance in new construction and alterations. As they were created state by state, the new commercial real estate came on line with increased efficiencies.

Federal Regulations

The US government wons nearly 500,000 buildings covering 3.1 billion square feet, which account for 0.4 percent of the nation’s energy usage and emit about 2 percent of all U.S. building-related greenhouse gases. It also leases through the General Services Administration 57,000 buildings comprising an additional 374 million square feet. While the image of the federal building may be the Pentagon, the average size of a federal office building is 6,700 square feet.

Despite what the public's perception might be, the Federal Government has very few regulations affecting the commercial real estate energy profile. Air and water quality are typically enforced at the state and local level, although the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act set federal standards for contamination. Permitting of carbon emissions is directed at power plants and large industrial operations.

State and Local Energy Codes

Forty-four states have building energy codes that mandate specific bulding and systems design for new construction. For example, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a performance standard developed by the US Green Building Council that looks at many of the building systems for energy conservation, including HVAC systems, water systems, exterior facades and roofing. ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers has its own criteria for HVAC design. The ENERGY STAR Management Program is a federal one where the basis is using ENERGY STAR materials and appliances in the building design.

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