The passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act set lofty energy savings goals for the investor-owned utilities, in order to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2045. While there are multiple paths to achieving these goals, a recent report from ACEEE suggests that one key to success could be stronger building codes.
Over the next five years, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will allocate $1.2M towards code training and enforcement. In the ACEEE report, Virginia ranked sixth as one of the best positioned states to take advantage of this new funding to improve its energy codes across the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.
According to ACEEE, Virginia needs to see the most emissions reduction by 2030 to meet its policy targets. While the VCEA savings targets are focused on cleaning up the grid, building codes can address both new construction and the existing building stock, which accounts for 40% of energy consumption nationwide. Based on their analysis, ACEEE found that Virginia needs to reduce emissions by more than 50% to meet the VCEA goals.
In Virginia, the commercial building code aligns with the IECC model code, but gaps in enforcement and code official training mean the state could save an additional 5-10% on energy costs by utilizing federal funds.
On the residential side, our current code is missing two critical provisions that would align with the 2021 IECC model code – improved R-value for wall insulation, and enhanced building tightness to reduce the number of air changes per hour. By adopting these amendments, ACEEE found that there could be a 17.8% reduction in energy costs. (Learn about the the Virginia building code update process on our website.)
The report also found that Virginia ranked in the median for homes built nationwide. Meaning, approximately 1700 new homes were built across the state in 2019, with the data projecting similar growth moving forward. New home construction is a great opportunity for increased energy efficiency.
Bringing the Uniform Statewide Building Code up to IECC standards and improving code enforcement, can help the state achieve up to 20% in residential energy cost-savings.
While the building code applies more directly to new construction, retrofits are a pathway to reducing emissions and costs in existing buildings as well. ACEEE also looked at carbon emissions from existing buildings and found that, in 2019, over 5 tons of CO2 per capita – equivalent to driving 12,000 miles in a standard gas SUV – were released from Virginia’s existing building stock. By 2050, as much as two-thirds of existing buildings statewide will have been constructed prior to 2020, therefore it is increasingly critical to address existing buildings, in addition to new construction. Utility residential energy efficiency programs will play a major role in reducing emissions from existing housing, thereby highlighting the need for a holistic approach to reducing carbon emissions from Virginia’s built environment.
The timing on the implementation of these federal dollars couldn’t be better. However, deployment of these funds must be part of a comprehensive strategy that takes into account Virginia policy. Facilitating these types of conversations with decision-makers is a role that the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council, and our members, can play. We look forward to that opportunity. Check our new federal funding page and our monthly e-newsletters for continued updates on this important work.