Sandy: Well here we are again, Tom, fall is in the air, and I believe I can smell Christmas!
Tom: Definitely my favorite time of year.
Sandy: The weather transitions from cooling to heating over these next few weeks, allowing us to open our doors and windows, leave off the AC and enjoy the cool evenings and, of course, save some shekels on our energy bills.
Tom: I agree. We don’t have to manufacture comfortable temperatures; they are here pretty much year-round.
Sandy: Interesting, you said manufacture comfort. I don’t think I have heard that line before. Manufacturing temperature is a big part of our industry; home and building energy designed to improve our lives by driving energy innovation. We have to love our HVAC folks. They make our buildings and homes more energy efficient and our cities and town accelerate our investment by implementing best energy practices.
Tom: What’s not to like? There is an aspect to that industry that has changed through the years and that is primarily because of the goal of reducing energy consumption, resulting in us leaving a lighter footprint. The big change, of course, is the codes.
Sandy: Ah, yes, our Energy Code. That was adopted by all the municipalities and the county here just a little more than a decade ago.
Tom: Yes, but the energy codes have been around since the early 90s. Initially developed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), these codes are designed to create buildings that are able to retain their ‘manufactured’ temperatures.
Sandy: So, let’s be clear about the whole government thing. The federal government created and has updated the energy code for decades and local governments adopt those codes. Local governments can make changes to them though, can’t they?
Tom: Correct. The codes put out by the DOE are actually reviewed by a nationwide code monitoring group made up of local building officials across the country. The code is not mandated by the feds, it was put out there for local governments to utilize, modify if necessary, and implement if they choose to.
Sandy: The code, as I read it, really addresses the varying climate zones across the country. That makes it easier to implement for local building departments. A few months ago, we discussed what building energy codes are, and more recently, we looked at how they are developed and what role the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) plays in that process. Today, we are going to take a look into the next step: how codes are adopted.
Tom: Building energy codes set minimum energy efficiency levels, but those savings are never realized unless states and localities actually adopt them. State adoption usually occurs through either legislative action or through regulatory agency actions. In some states, codes are adopted by local governments (“home rule”), generally through an action of the city or county. In all cases, once the code is adopted, it becomes law within the adopting jurisdiction.
Sandy: There are almost as many ways to adopt a code as there are states, but the most commonly used adoption practices are: Federal Guidance, which directs the DOE to review each new published edition of the model energy codes, and to issue a determination as to whether the updated codes would result in increased energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings. When a code results in increased energy efficiency (based on DOE’s review), statute then requires states to review and/or update their building energy codes based on the new model codes. States are given two years to accomplish this process and certify their new code based on the updated model code.
Tom: Then there are state government legislative actions. A legislature can adopt a new energy code by title or, more commonly, by directing either a one-time administrative action or by putting in place an ongoing process. In Maryland, for example, there is a permanent law that requires the state to adopt each new version of the national model code within 18 months of when it is published. In Washington, however, a state law passed in 2009 requires that energy codes reduce building energy use by 70% by 2031. Like all legislation, there is a process of hearings, public commentary and revisions, followed by a formal vote and ending with an approved bill being signed into law by the governor.
Sandy: Regardless of how it is done, the actual process mirrors the just-described regulatory process with the city council or mayor’s office either convening a committee or directing the local building department to adopt a new code.
Tom: To share with our readers, the DOE tracks energy code adoption and implementation across the United States and reports the status by state for both residential and commercial codes. This provides transparency and better understanding of what is happening across the U.S. in building energy codes.
Tom: In Yavapai County alone, there are six climatic zones, which are based essentially on the elevation above sea level. For example, from Camp Verde to the top of Crown King is about 6,000 feet of change.
Sandy: The code has different requirements for each of the climatic zones, such as the insulation thickness at different parts of the building like walls, roof and floors. The code also addresses the window types, glazing and frames.
Tom: In addition, the foundation system, slab systems and related heat loss or gain is addressed through construction techniques.
Sandy: Each aspect of the building that touches heat loss or heat gain is looked at and addressed to reduce energy usage. This really lets us retain our manufactured temperature longer and saves us real dollars.
Tom: That is correct, Sandy. You are an Energy Star girl! I have not seen studies that quantify those savings with respect to additional construction costs. That would be good information to have.
Sandy: Indeed. There are voices that come from both sides of the issue regarding the benefits to the environment. The thought is there. I wonder if the science backs it up.
Tom: I am not sure. The idea of achieving a goal using a minimum of resources is appealing to me.
Sandy: So right on! What else should our readers know about the code?
Tom: Our heating and cooling systems have become way more efficient. Furnaces are typically operating at 90% or better. This is up 70 to 80% from the not-too-distant past.
Sandy: Tom, as we said earlier, efforts to reduce energy use have led to and will continue to look at the development of energy codes and standards to establish minimum efficiency requirements for new-building construction, building additions and renovations. Providing comfort cooling and energy efficiency in our homes and buildings will be an ongoing task.
Tom: Let’s close with a couple of our favorite tips on how to save energy. I say install a programmable or smart thermostat.
Sandy: And I say, “Yes.” I love my programmable thermostat. It eliminates wasteful energy use by reducing my heating and cooling during the times when I am asleep or away.
Tom: I say purchase energy efficient appliances.
Sandy: And, I agree again. On the average, appliances are responsible for roughly 13% of your total household energy use. When purchasing an energy efficient appliance, you should look for appliances with the ENERGY STAR label, which is a federal guarantee that the appliance will consume less energy during use and when on standby than standard non-energy efficient models. Energy savings differ based on the specific appliance. For example, ENERGY STAR certified clothes washers consume 25% less energy and 45% less water than conventional ones; whereas, ENERGY STAR refrigerators use only 9% less energy.
Tom: I say reduce your water heating expenses.
Sandy: For sure. Water heating is a major contributor to total energy consumption. I have a timer on my water heater and love, love, love it.
Tom: So, in closing, Sandy, why conserve energy in the first place?
Sandy: Because energy conservation is important and beneficial for many reasons. You can save money, increase your property value and protect the environment — all through simple energy-saving measures. These are great benefits you can gain from saving energy no matter your motivation for conservation in the first place. By simply taking a small step toward living a more energy-conscious lifestyle, you can begin to enjoy all of the perks of being energy efficient.
Let’s conserve! Thanks for stopping in and reading “At Home with Tom and Sandy.” You’re in good company and we love sharing educational, fun and important information with you. Until next month. QCBN
Tom Reilly, Architect, Contractor, Renovations 928-445-8506 renovationsaz.com
Sandy Griffis, Executive Director, Yavapai County Contractors Association. 928-778-0040.