Image courtesy of LBNL.

We recently gave an overview of building energy codes and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) corresponding role. Now, we are going to take a deeper dive into the three main steps in the codes process: how they are developed, adopted, and complied with. This post focuses on the first step: how energy codes are developed, and who develops them.

Building energy codes are not developed by DOE; they are developed through two independent entities: the International Code Council (for residential and commercial buildings) and ASHRAE (for commercial buildings). The public can participate in either of these processes; DOE is statutorily required to participate in both of them. That said, let’s examine each process in more detail.

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) – Residential and Commercial Buildings

How it works: The International Code Council (ICC), a nonprofit organization, develops a suite of model construction codes, which all 50 states have adopted some version of. One of these model codes is the International Energy Conservation Code—which the ICC updates every three years through a public consensus process.

Here are the steps:

  1. Public submits proposals: When the cycle kicks off, any interested party can submit to the ICC, at no cost, a list of changes they’d like to see to the code. Participants typically include code officials, design professionals, code consultants, trade associations, builders and contractors, manufacturers and suppliers, and government agencies.
  2. First public hearing: The ICC compiles the list of all code change proposals received and publishes them. This is followed by the first of two public hearings, where stakeholders can debate proposals’ merits. At the first hearing, proponents and opponents of proposals make their arguments before a committee of experts assembled by the ICC that will vote on each proposal. The committee’s options are to approve a proposal as submitted, modify it and approve as modified, or disapprove it. The residential chapter and commercial chapter have separate committees.
  3. Comment period: Between the two public hearings, the public can submit written comments on the committees’ recommendations with suggested changes to any proposals. If no public comment is submitted on a proposal it is placed on a consent agenda for the second public hearing (if it was approved by the committee) or it is no longer considered in the process (if it was disapproved by the committee).
  4. Second public hearing: At the second public hearing, stakeholders present their arguments to the ICC Governmental Member Representatives who will cast the final votes on all proposals. The large majority of these representatives are employees of city and county building departments. Others are from state governments. Federal government agencies, including DOE, can also vote. Only proposals which received public comments are discussed.
  5. Finalize new edition: After the hearing, the ICC representatives vote on each proposal, with all accepted changes entered into the new published edition of the IECC. States have the option to adopt the new codes or continue with their current codes.

DOE’s role: DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program is statutorily required to participate in the IECC code development process. DOE is one of many parties that submit code change proposals and participate in the review process; it has no special status. DOE submits a range of proposals that may include simple wording changes, advancements in required efficiency levels, and sometimes changes to the code’s structure or scope. All of DOE’s proposals are screened to be cost-effective based on its energy and cost analysis methodology.

Current status: The latest code published by the ICC is the 2015 IECC. The cycle is underway to develop the 2018 IECC. The initial, and most recent, hearing was held in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 17-27, to review new proposals. The second hearings will be held in October in Kansas City, Missouri.

ASHRAE Standard 90.1 – Commercial Buildings

How it works: ASHRAE created a committee that continuously maintains and updates its energy code for commercial buildings—called Standard 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings—by developing, reviewing, and issuing addenda to the Standard. Every three years, ASHRAE collects all approved addenda and publishes a new edition of the code.

Here are the steps:

  1. The committee: ASHRAE assembles Standing Standards Project Committees (SSPCs) to oversee proposed modifications to its standards on continuous maintenance such as 90.1. These are stakeholder committees that include members from major interest groups. The committee chair makes recommendations on all applicants that are reviewed and approved by a committee that oversees all SSPCs called the Standards Project Liaison Subcommittee. SSPC meetings are open to the public and members of the public can participate during meetings at the discretion of the SSPC chair. All members of the public are encouraged to participate during the open public review process.
  2. Submit proposals: Standard 90.1 is a continuous maintenance standard to which anyone can submit proposed revisions at any time. To be released by ASHRAE for public review, proposals must receive a yes vote from 2/3 of those voting and 50% of the committee, as well as getting approval from the SPLS and the Illuminating Engineering Society, which is a co-sponsor of the process.
  3. Submit comments: During the public review period, which typically lasts 30 or 45 days, anyone from the public can submit comments on the proposed changes.
  4. Address comments: When public review concludes, the SSPC must make an attempt to resolve all public review comments, sometimes resulting in modification and additional rounds of public review.
  5. Finalize change: Once comments have been addressed and the commenters (if any) declare themselves resolved, the proposal is ready for publication. If there are unresolved commenters, the SSPC requires approval of 2/3 of those voting and 50% of the committee to publish the change with knowledge of unresolved objections.
  6. Finalize new edition: After an opportunity for appeals, ASHRAE publishes the approved addenda, and at the end of three years, all published addenda are compiled to create the next revision of the standard.

DOE’s role: DOE is also statutorily required to participate in the ASHRAE Standard 90.1 development process. DOE has voting and non-voting members on the SSPC. It provides analytical and technical support to the SSPC, developing and submitting its own addenda as well as analyzing other organizations’ proposed addenda when requested by the SSPC chairman.

Current status: The latest code published by ASHRAE is Standard 90.1 2013. An updated version will be published in 2016.


Along with participating in the code development processes, DOE is also required by law (the Energy Conservation and Production Act, as amended (ECPA)) to issue a determination after each new edition of ASHRAE 90.1 or the IECC is published, as to whether the new edition will improve energy efficiency compared to the previous edition. DOE has one year to publish a determination in the Federal Register after each new edition of the standard/code is published. Following an affirmative determination by DOE, each state has obligations to review the new code. For the residential code, it must certify that it has reviewed the new code and determined whether it is appropriate to revise its current code; for the commercial code, it must certify that it has reviewed and updated the provisions of its code to meet the new code.