When gas and oil cost pennies, no one dreamed about spending a lot of money to heat or air condition their building or drive their car. Eventually we had no choice. In 1960 OPEC was created and in 2016 OPEC+ further advanced the oil-producing nations to happily control oil costs and production. Private oil companies follow in the same fashion, without hesitation.
As the walls of buildings became thinner and thinner, the cost to keep the interior environment pleasant cost more and more. Whether it is heating and air conditioning systems, electrical and lighting systems or the building envelope, modern construction of residential and commercial buildings needs to meet The Energy Code. Although the ‘codes’ were legislated by the federal government in 1978, they are actually created by state and local governments. There is an entity that provides guidance to the public through their efforts.
This entity is known as the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Started in 1993 by private individuals, this nonprofit organization’s purpose is to ‘support the development of prosperous, healthy, and resilient communities through the transformation of the built environment.’ Their ‘categories’ include: sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor environment and innovation of design.
When these design categories are attained — via a point system — ‘credentials’ are awarded, and a plaque is placed upon the property for the public to see. The levels are certified, silver, gold and platinum.
The ‘Green Movement’ gained traction globally, and eventually a World Green Building Council had its founding meeting in 1999 in California. Nations around the world became part of the council officially in 2002. In 2007 a Secretariat for the World GBC was created with a focus on many issues such as membership, governance and marketing. At the present time there are approximately 71 Green Building Councils.
In terms of professional design work in the United States and many places around the world, every project must have an ‘Energy Code Statement’ wherein the applicant states that the project meets energy code requirements, even if there are no energy code issues as part of the design. For example when a masonry façade is repaired and its inner core is exposed, inspections must be made to verify that no air will penetrate into the interior of the building and therefore tax the heating system. The same inspections and sign-offs are required when windows and doors are installed. Any type of work performed on a building where there is a ‘conditioned space’ must meet the energy code and therefore follow USGBC guidelines.
Not only are roofs, walls, windows and doors required to meet energy code requirements, but so is the equipment that provide heat and air conditioning to residential and commercial buildings. Many of us have seen Energy Star Ratings on everything from washing machines to boilers.
Energy consumption requirements also exist for large scale equipment for multi-story buildings. This equipment is important in terms of its role in providing conditioned air and water for a building. More importantly, exhaust emissions must be kept to a minimum so as not to increase greenhouse gasses. Pipes carrying hot water must be insulated and meet ‘R’ values not unlike ‘R’ values for windows and doors.
It should be understood that not unlike providing access for people with handicaps, meeting the energy code and USGBC guidelines adds to the services provided by professionals to their clients. The construction industry has more responsibility in building projects that meet ‘code.’ These costs eventually are paid for by the owners of properties.
All in all, industry research has shown that building to meet energy code is no more expensive than construction techniques prior to these “Green” guidelines.