Stretch Codes Offer a Way to Fast Track Energy Savings in Slow-To-Adopt States

Courtesy of BCAP

Stretch codes offer a lever for pushing local building requirements above and beyond the energy-saving standards of national building codes.

The 20% Stretch Code, developed by New Buildings Institute (NBI), is the first of two such stretch codes being introduced by the organization in the coming months. These codes provide a set of building strategies that work to squeeze every bit of waste out of building energy performance, even to the point of making them zero energy-ready–meaning, buildings that are so energy efficient, energy needs could be met with on-site or nearby renewable energy resources.

The Problem with today’s building codes is slow or erratic adoption by states. In every place where energy codes lag,  new buildings will be locked in to a lifetime of underperformance. Unfortunately, most new buildings are constructed to meet only the minimum energy efficiency requirements set forth by state or local building codes that are often based upon national model building codes (the International Energy Conservation Code and ASHRAE 90.1).

National building codes, which establish baseline standards for energy efficiency and other construction practices, are only updated every three years and can easily fall behind best practice, when it comes to the latest design strategies and technology application. Some states enforce codes that are up to three development cycles back representing design and construction practices circa 2009, rather than taking advantage of new advancements. In addition, many cities don’t have the authority to adopt their own building codes apart from what the state mandates, and are stuck with outdated codes.

Stretch Codes Offer a Better Way Forward

Increasingly, states and cities are making commitments to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector and accelerate building energy efficiency. Local jurisdictions such as those involved in the 2030 Challenge, City Energy Project, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, and other efforts have set forth ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions over the next two decades. For these cities, following the latest building codes may not represent rapid enough progress toward meeting these goals.

NBI’s 20% Stretch Code has been developed as an overlay to existing national codes, to make it easier for states and cities to adopt them. They can also be adopted as voluntary codes or policies, and by working with local utilities cities and states can often offer designers and builders incentives to abide by them. Stretch Codes in Action Several cities and states have already adopted stretch codes. Below are some examples.

Massachusetts Green Communities.

Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt a stretch code that went into effect in 2009. The code was unique in that it was based more on energy performance than prescriptive measures. In other words, if a building’s energy performance was high enough, it met the code requirements regardless of how it was constructed, although certain common sense construction practices were required such as proper insulation, sealing & ventilation, lighting, etc. The stretch code was last updated in in 2016 and 2017,  to ensure it remained more stringent than national building energy standards established in 2015.

Cities have the option of adopting the stretch code, and if they do, can be designated a Green Community and receive additional support from the state as well as take advantage of utility rebates and other incentives to help the building community comply with the code.

As of October 2017, 214 municipalities have adopted the stretch code.

For more examples, visit the NBI website.

General Questions: Stacey Hobart Communications Director New Buildings Institute

503-407-2148 Interview Sources: Ralph DiNola, Chief Executive Officer New Buildings Institute 761-7339 x102