Impact of Commercial Building Energy Codes

The impact of energy codes on a commercial building is often seen as a necessary annoyance but building in energy efficiency can minimize energy costs. This is especially true during the early stages of the building process as it is much easier and less expensive to institute energy efficient improvements while a building is under design or before construction. Generally, it is a decade or more before something like insulation or windows are replaced with more efficient choices.  Commercial building energy codes facilitate efficient choices are made from the start, allowing the capturing of energy (and operating money) savings from the beginning.

What are commercial building energy codes?

Although energy codes are one of many building codes, such as structural, electrical or plumbing, they are different than equipment and appliance standards as energy codes cover the building itself.

Building codes are adopted at the state and local levels, there is no national building or energy code. States or local governments can choose to adopt one of several model energy codes, a modified version of a model code and its own state-specific code.

What is in the Code?

There are three major components of the commercial energy building code:

  1. Lighting
  2. HVAC
  3. Envelope

There are sub-components within the building envelope also subject to energy code regulations:

  • Foundation
  • Floor
  • Roof
  • Windows
  • Skylights
  • Doors


What is a Green Building?

A green building, also known as a sustainable building, refers to both the structure and the processes that are resource-efficient and environmentally responsible throughout a building’s life-cycle. This requires the cooperation of the architects, contractor, and client at all the building project phases. Also, the routine administration of a building complements the building design concepts of utility, economy, durability, and comfort.

What is LEED?

The increase in energy-efficient building concepts and practices has resulted in several organizations developing codes, standards, and rating systems. This provides regulators, building professionals, and building owners the ability to evaluate the environmental performance of a building.

In the United States and Canada, the leading rating system is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) created by the United States Green Building Council.

“The system is credit-based, allowing projects to earn points for environmentally friendly actions taken during construction and use of a building. LEED was launched in an effort to develop a “consensus-based, market-driven rating system to accelerate the development and implementation of green building practices.” The program is not rigidly structured; not every project must meet identical requirements to qualify.*

The program provides the intent, requirements, technologies, and strategies for meeting each credit for certification.  Each credit earns points and a building requires at least 40 points for certification.

LEED Certification Levels

  • Certified 40 – 49 Points
  • Silver 50 – 59 Points
  • Gold 60 – 79 Points
  • Platinum 80-110 Points

Cost and payoff

Perhaps the most criticized issue about constructing a building under stringent commercial building energy codes is the additional cost which is reported to be about 2%* or more, depending on which level you select to qualify for. However, this additional cost could yield up to 10 times in savings over the entire life of a building. And according to Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies for a 20-year horizon:

“The financial payback typically exceeds the additional cost of greening by a factor of 4-6 times.”

Numerous studies have also found that a green building can benefit worker productivity.