Today, there are many voices making waves in building codes and green/energy-efficient design; none are more important than the views of local officials that vote on hundreds of proposals to change the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This year, voting on the regulations will take place November 8th thru November 21st, 2016, then implementation of the various codes elected will be left to state and local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce, says senior energy policy advocate Lauren Urbanek at the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).

Changes to the IECC will include additional standards to increase the energy efficiency of residential and commercial built environments to collectively save end users billions of dollars each year in energy bills. Some of the new requirements supported by the NRDC are Improved Windows that will employ existing energy-efficient windows on the market, Efficient Lavatory Faucets that will limit flow to 1.5 gallons per minute, and Water Heater Proximity to Fixture Outlets that has been a standard in Europe for decades with on-demand systems.

These fixtures have been included in the IECC previously, but tighter regulations will reflect further improvements in residential and commercial construction to conserve natural resources and “avoid the pollution from fossil fuel-fired electricity generation that fuels climate change.”

There is no doubt that material expenditures for building owners will increase for traditional residential and commercial projects that previously have not sought to meet the voluntary “beyond code” green rating systems. The additional costs to build green lie around 2.4% states Greg Kats in his book “Greening Our Built World: Costs, Benefits, and Strategies,” but what is to be preferred, a low initial investment or low energy costs over the life of the structure? The current return on investment (ROI) is expected to be around 19.2% on existing green projects and 9.9% on new projects per the USGBC’s webpage on “The Business Case for Building Green.” And property owners can expect incentives and tax benefits by way of “tax credits, grants, expedited building permits, and reductions/waivers in fees.”

Scheduling products shouldn’t be a problem in most scenarios as certified products to meet the standards already exist such as residential Energy Star certified windows and doors. Commercial property owners will have to depend on design professionals for compliant fenestrations. This could increase planning lead times as professionals climatize themselves to not only new codes, but the appearance of the code books. Contractors may hold up project lead times, as well, as they, too, continue to learn installation measures for required systems, materials, and fixtures.

Concerns about climate change are high in all organizations related to green building, not only the NRDC (As stated above). The USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) recommends model green building codes and standards, such as their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program. The NBI (National Buildings Institute) promotes their “Zero Net Energy” program to improve the energy performance of commercial buildings by supporting designs that ensure buildings can create more energy than they use. And EECC (Energy Efficient Codes Coalition) that, like the NRDC, also makes voting recommendations for a more efficient IECC. These are just to name a few. Many other organizations are, also, working hard along with these prestigious few to make changes to protect not only users of the built structures but also the environment. Let’s hope all that can do get out and vote for positive changes in the industry.

For further information, visit the U.S. Department of Energy for a list of currently adopted energy codes by state.

Low-rise buildings for residential and commercial use are smaller in size from high-rise buildings as there will be only ten levels of space or less. These buildings may be separated into individual resident-occupied rental units, or blocks of office spaces. Normally, low-rise buildings will use up fewer energy resources, making them more economical to run depending on what the space is used for on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there may be a few unknown energy wasters lurking throughout the building that could lead to rising energy costs. By identifying these energy wasters, you can take the necessary steps to make the building more efficient.

Thermostats in Wrong Locations

When the building was first constructed, the thermostat would normally be placed in the optimal spot so that drafts, direct sunlight and vents did not affect its operation. Unfortunately, during renovations and adding on additional modules, thermostats can be moved when walls are taken down. A thermostat in the wrong position can cause the HVAC system to run for inordinate lengths of time to heat and cool the space. It can also refuse to turn on, causing the thermostat to be turned up higher or lower than normal.

Moving the thermostat to the optimal location can help with its operation. Consider relocating the device to an interior wall away from windows, doors, and vents. Keep all equipment that generates heat away from the thermostat and refrain from placing the thermostat in places where a lot of people may walk by as they can create a draft that affects the temperature sensors.

Blocked Vents

Vents and grilles can be one of the biggest energy waster culprits in a building. The more furniture and equipment that must be placed in the space, the more chances that a vent or grill will be covered by a bookcase, sofa, storage cabinet, or other piece of equipment. Once the vent is blocked, this drastically impacts the conditioned air in the space as people may complain it is too hot or cold in the room.

This circumstance causes the thermostat to be constantly adjusted as the HVAC system will begin using up more energy. By simply going through the low-rise building and unblocking vents and grilles, you can see a drastic change in your energy bills as you will have greater control over the conditioned air so people can feel more comfortable. During the construction of low-rise buildings, take into account the position of vents and grilles in building plans to put them in the most optimal places to avoid the risk of them becoming blocked.

Water Waste from Leaking Faucets

Faucets in residential bathrooms, public restrooms, kitchens and breakrooms go through constant use during the day. People are washing hands, containers, and utensils during their lunch hours. They may leave the water on too long, not completely shut off the tap, or the faucet may be damaged a it now leaks. Not only are you seeing high water bills because of the water waste, you may also be seeing high energy bills due to the large amounts of hot water being used as your water heater system has to work overtime during the work week.

Switching to low flow faucets and fixing damaged faucets can significantly increase your energy efficiency in the building. You may also consider touch faucets or sensor faucets to control the amount of water usage to decrease both energy and water waste in your building.

Installing Incandescent Exit Signs

The move toward more energy-efficient lighting has arrived, as construction and renovation projects are seeking to utilize LED lighting in low-rise buildings. The energy savings to these light bulbs and fixtures, as well as their longevity with lower maintenance costs, has been well documented. Yet there is one place where LED lighting is still not being used: exit signs.

Older exit signs may still be using incandescent or fluorescent lighting, which ends up drawing in more power to keep the sign lit throughout the day and night. When designing and constructing new buildings, installing new LED exit signs can save money not only in energy costs throughout the year but also save money because the light bulb will not have to be changed as often.

Dirty Windows

Windows can so often be overlooked on a low-rise building. Once the blinds and drapes are added, you normally forget about them unless you are opening a window to let some fresh air inside. Yet when a window or skylight becomes dirty, less natural light filters in during the day. So more task lighting and artificial light becomes used, raising your energy costs.

It’s surprising just how one clean window can offer significant savings to a room simply because the artificial lights won’t have to be turned on for the rest of the day. Develop the appropriate cleaning schedule for the windows based on its location and how often it gets dirty. Then have periodic cleanings performed to keep them clean throughout the year.

Equipment Left On at Night and During the Weekends

It can often be a productivity strategy for employees working in office spaces to leave the monitor or computer on overnight so that it will quickly start up in the morning when they begin work the next day. This same tactic will also be used for fax machines, copiers, printers, and other equipment. Unfortunately, even when the machine is inactive, it is still pulling in electricity.

While it might not seem like much power is wasted on a daily basis, completely shutting down a single computer and the monitor during weeknights and on the weekends could save the low rise building up to $80 a year. Placing equipment into power saving mode when not in use during the day and completely shutting them down overnight can increase the energy savings throughout the low-rise building.

Take Advantage of the Energy Savings By Tackling Building Issues

Architects, builders, and property owners are recognizing the tremendous benefits of energy efficiency during the low-rise building construction and afterward when the building is in use. Yet there are many energy wasters that may become overlooked simply because people believe the amount of energy that is wasted throughout the day is miniscule. Ultimately, when taking into account long-term use, the energy waste as well as the costs can significantly add up.

Every low-rise building is different. Performing energy audits and benchmarking of low-rise buildings and commercial operations can allow people to pinpoint the places where energy efficiency can be improved. Then you will be better able to control energy costs and reduce waste.

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