October 25, 2022 | Cherylyn Kelley, Ella Wetlesen

Across the country, jurisdictions are passing Building Performance Standards (BPS), also referred to as Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS), to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and achieve their climate goals. BPS set energy and/or carbon reduction targets on the existing building stock of a jurisdiction. Although these policies support the achievement of higher performance in existing buildings, they are still relatively new policy tools that may be unfamiliar to some in the building industry. As BPS become more commonplace, architects and consulting engineers — who have historically been most concerned with implementing energy code requirements as the primary energy-related regulations – will need to have a thorough understanding of the local BPS targets in addition to energy codes. Understanding the connections is critical to helping building owners achieve greater efficiency, reduce greenhouse gasses, and meet regulatory compliance requirements. To bridge the knowledge gap between codes and BPS, IMT recommends establishing market supports that can help owners, designers, architects, engineers, and builders determine the best path to high-performance.

State of Play: Codes and BPS

Thus far, energy codes and BPS policies have been considered separately by stakeholders —energy codes apply to new construction (but come into play during specific events such as major retrofits and equipment updates) whereas BPS laws apply to existing buildings. However, all new construction becomes “existing” once the certificate of occupancy is issued. Developers who plan for five year holding periods for example, will now have to comply with both code requirements and BPS targets in their new constructions. An assumption may be made that because a building is “new construction” it will be ready to meet an impending BPS target, but that may not be the case, especially depending on what energy code is in place. Most jurisdictions have not adopted the most recent model energy code (the 2021 IECC or ASHRAE 90.1-2019), which would put buildings in the best position to achieve BPS targets, and many jurisdictions do not update the code every cycle. Further, given the length of design and construction process, a building coming online may not be built to the code version currently in effect.

The majority of BPS policies set building performance targets based on site energy use intensity (EUI) or annual greenhouse gas emissions. IMT’s model BPS recommends using site EUI as the metric since it is the variable over which builder owners have the most control. Within the energy code, only the performance path provides an indication of the potential energy use of the building, and this path uses energy cost, not EUI, as the metric. This means that the design is optimized around reducing energy cost, not energy use intensity. The prescriptive path provides even less information about ultimate building performance. While new construction may be more likely to meet the BPS target in both of these cases, it is impossible to know a building’s actual performance until it is occupied, which may lead to non-compliance with a BPS. For a deep dive into the intersection of energy codes and BPS, check out this 2022 ACEEE Summer Study paper from Institute for Market Transformation’s Amy Boyce.

Building Hubs Meet the Industry Needs 

Luckily, market supports are emerging in jurisdictions to address these disconnects called high-performance building hubs (Hubs). These “one-stop shops” drive change by providing hands-on technical assistance and compliance support to members of the building industry who are designing, building, and operating high-performance buildings. These entities have been launched in Washington, DC, New York City, St. Louis, Seattle, and Kansas City as BPS are passed or as cities prioritize high-performance building support. Hubs can provide resources central to building energy codes and BPS. For example, a Hub can provide an analysis of whether or not a newly constructed building is likely to meet the upcoming BPS compliance targets once it is occupied. It can also provide general resources on where the local energy code and BPS policy diverge, intersect, and share best practices from those successfully navigating the laws.

Due to their local connections and knowledge, Hubs can be major assets to jurisdictions and stakeholders working on high-performance buildings. They can customize their projects to address the needs and concerns of their community, ultimately driving more effective industry strategy. For example, the DC Building Innovation Hub has reached the building stakeholder community by publishing a variety of resources on the District’s building energy codes and BPS policy. One such resource, ‘Where DC’s Building Code Meets BEPS’ includes:

  • analysis of how the District’s most recently constructed projects are performing relative to the first BEPS compliance cycle targets’ 
  • dissection of the DC energy code for areas that will have the greatest impact on BEPS compliance; 
  • and description of opportunities for new construction design to meet long-term BEPS compliances. 

Additional guides and energy code resources for building stakeholders have been released by the DC Hub in tandem with events for further educational enrichment. The DC Hub advises on energy codes and BPS, provides 1:1 support for building owners, offers a program to help under-resourced buildings and multifamily buildings in frontline communities comply with BPS, encourages high-road contracting practices, and more. The DC Building Innovation Hub has demonstrated such a track record of success, it has won a number of awards: USGBC’s Community Leader Award: Excellence in Government, Advocacy or Policy, UN International Centre of Excellence for High-Performing Buildings, and 2021 AIA|DC’s Partnership for the Planet Award.

“Companies on the leading edge are figuring out how to incorporate BEPS into standard practice, and plan for the long-term success of their clients’ buildings by considering BEPS during all phases of design.”

~ Theresa Backhus, the Director of the Building Innovation Hub

Building professionals are instrumental to the success of high-performance buildings and transitioning our society to net zero. While owners and developers are adjusting to performance policies and energy code updates in many jurisdictions, extra support is needed to drive awareness and collaboration in the building community at large. Effective policies are only as successful as the implementation process allows, demonstrating the importance and value of high-performance building hubs. Whether as individuals or as part of a company, building stakeholders can connect to Hubs for community support and up-to-date knowledge on all things BPS and codes.

Check out IMT’s business practices page to learn more about how we support high-performance building hubs in Washington, D.C., St. Louis, and Kansas City. If you are a city that is interested in learning about how IMT has guided the creation of High-Performance Building Hubs through needs assessments, business plans, and strategic development, please contact Margaret Lo, Director, Business Engagement.

Program Area(s):

Codes , Policy , Real Estate

Meet the Authors

Manager, Building Energy Codes and Policy
Manager, Business Engagement

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