Improving the energy performance of buildings brings economic and environmental benefits, while decongesting the power grid and contributing to energy supply security. Just like there are standards for HVAC, electrical installations, fire protection and other building systems, energy codes play a fundamental role in improving building performance. It is important to note that residential and commercial properties differ in their energy consumption patterns, and thus each building type requires a different approach.
Although the USA has energy efficiency programs like ENERGY STAR, NEMA Premium Efficiency and DesignLights Consortium Listing, there is no national energy code per se. The ASHRAE 90.1 standard is the closest thing to a national code, covering building energy performance. However, each state and municipality has freedom to determine their own energy codes.
The state of New York has the Energy Conservation Construction Code, and the latest edition was published in 2016. The code includes both the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code and the 2013 version of ASHRAE 90.1. The specific requirements for New York City are provided in the NYC Energy Conservation Code, which is more demanding that the state code. The last version of the NYC energy code was published in 2016 and an update is scheduled for 2019.
Make sure your project meets the NYC energy code.
What is the NYC Energy Code Compliance Process?
Meeting the NYC energy code is not very different from the normal permitting process followed for mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems. The NYC Dept. of Buildings reviews key documentation such as construction plans and equipment specifications, requesting changes if needed before approving the project.
Consider that commercial projects normally require commissioning as part of the energy code compliance process. The only exceptions are:
- Projects with space cooling capacity below 480,000 BTU/h, and combined space and water heating capacity below 600,000 BTU/h.
- Renewable energy systems below 25 kW.
The NYC energy code provides separate requirements for residential and commercial buildings. However, the definition of “residential building” is limited to properties up to three stories high, and taller residential properties are considered commercial for energy code purposes. For example, high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums must follow the commercial section of the NYC energy code.
Mixed-use buildings, which have both residential and commercial areas, are managed as separate projects for energy code compliance purposes. Two sets of documents are submitted for approval, including separate energy analysis, one covering residential areas and the other covering commercial areas.
Responsibilities of Each Party for Energy Code Compliance
Successful project delivery depends on effective collaboration between all parties involved: design engineers, property owners, contractors, etc. However, the NYC energy code assigns specific roles and responsibilities for the compliance process, which are summarized in the following table:
Description and Responsibilities
The applicant is the individual named in the building permit, who bears responsibility for meeting the NYC energy code. Although the applicant is typically the property owner, the role can also be assumed by an authorized agent such as an engineer, architect or contractor.
The building official is in charge of enforcing the NYC energy code, and can appoint technical officers and inspectors to provide assistance.
Plans Examiner or Special Plans Examiner
As implied by their role name, their responsibility is reviewing project plans to make sure they meet the energy code.
Inspector or Special Inspector
Their responsibility is performing field inspections to verify code compliance. Even if the construction documents are compliant, it is important to verify that the completed project meets the approved documentation.
The Professional Statement
NYC Energy Conservation Code applications filed by a Registered Design Professional must include a professional statement to be valid. This document states either code compliance or code exemption for the corresponding project. All new constructions or major alterations are subject to the code, except for the project types listed below:
- Historic buildings.
- Low-energy building envelopes, according to Ch. C4 (commercial) or R4 (residential).
- Types of work that do not affect energy use.
- Temporary structures.
- Exempted fire protection systems: fire alarms, fire suppression in range hoods, standpipes and sprinklers.
- Fuel storage.
- Construction equipment.
- Curb cuts.
Keep in mind that a project can only be considered fully exempt if its entire scope falls under the categories described above. All other types of work are covered by the energy code. In other words, you cannot claim exemption for an entire project if only part of its work corresponds to exempt categories.
Which Energy Analysis Formats are Accepted?
The NYC energy code requires energy analysis for all projects, demonstrating how the project design meets the code. In the case of commercial projects, the analysis must indicate if the project is designed according to Chapters C2-C6 or according to ASHRAE 90.1.
The accepted formats are tabular analysis, REScheck, COMcheck and DOE2 energy modeling. Alternative formats are allowed as indicated by the code and if their equivalency is demonstrated.
Completing the Application
When your energy code application is examined, three basic aspects are verified:
- Correct documentation: Even if the design is code-compliant, the documentation must be as requested. Otherwise, your application will be rejected and returned for you to modify or complete it.
- Efficiency levels: Do they meet the minimum performance level specified in the energy code? Are the efficiency levels shown in the plans coherent with the rest of the documentation?
- Information for field inspection: Does the application contain sufficient information for field inspectors to perform their job when they visit the project?
Before submitting the application, double-check everything to ensure that the project is code compliant, and also make sure you are following the correct energy performance requirements. Like with every engineering project in New York City, code compliance is greatly simplified if you work with qualified engineering professionals.
Although the NYC Energy Conservation Code may seem like a burden, it leads to a lower cost of ownership throughout the building lifetime. The additional upfront cost of meeting the energy code is recovered many times in the long run.