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Changing the Landscape

Environmental concern and consciousness has steadily increased over the years, from the move to more eco-friendly vehicles to the continued growth of recycling programs and acceptance of recycled goods, going green is affecting nearly all aspects of daily life — and the construction industry is no different. As the sustainable building movement has evolved — and with the acceptance of more stringent energy codes — everyone in the industry now faces more challenges, and understanding the codes themselves and how they’re affecting building practices is the first step in overcoming them.

Initially developed in 2000, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) developed requirements for energy efficiency. The energy code addresses the building envelope, mechanical systems, service water heating systems, glazing and daylight zones, lighting and controls, and regulated electrical equipment. In essence, they touch every aspect of the construction process, and the changes can be costly and complicated.

As complex as it is, perhaps one of the most challenging aspects is the fact that energy codes continue to change. Updated every three years, many municipalities are just now implementing the IECC 2012, which contains energy efficient performance about 30 percent higher than the 2009 version. Adoption of the 2012 energy code has been slow, but as more state and local governments use it, it is important to understand the impacts early in the process, so owners and contractors alike can look for ways to be innovative and make smart decisions.


So, who do these codes affect? In short — everyone. While building techniques and processes are always advancing, designers and contractors must now adjust to the parameters given to them by each municipality. "We have to work as a team to ensure that buildings comply with all aspects of the codes. For projects where an energy code is applicable, we also need to document compliance, as many of the new requirements discourage practices that have been popular in the past," said John-Lewis Smith, engineer for LST Consulting Engineers, PA.

Because the codes have a separate set of requirements for residential and commercial buildings, they affect each market differently. The multifamily market has seen a sizable difference in how properties are wrapped. "Throughout these projects, we are seeing the biggest changes to air tightness and insulation requirements. Air tightness testing is starting to become a big ticket item with most municipalities for residential-style construction. Our clients’ projects are incorporating additional insulation, sealant, and inspection requirements in order to ensure these tests are passed," said Ryan Grier, MW Builders Kansas estimating manager.

MW Builders Senior Estimator Bryan Hefley explains the changes to the light industrial market. "The IECC has increased the entire building envelope requirements, including roof, walls, slab, and foundations. In addition, there is an increasing trend to incorporate energy-efficient lighting and motion sensors into the design. The initial costs of these fixtures is higher, but they have a fairly quick payback," he said.


Developers and construction partners now face a new challenge: how to design and build a structure at maximum value while meeting the updated regulations. In addition to standard project costs, teams must now consider the increased cost of equipment, testing, and inspections, among other variables. MW Builders Estimating Manager Jeremy Lambden weighs in on the cost to implement the new codes. "Initially, some owners might have sticker shock at the cost of equipment and materials to comply with the new codes, but it is also important to realize that, while the upfront costs are higher, the operational costs will be lower, so they will see a payback over time. In addition, should an owner ever sell a property, energy-efficient buildings will be more attractive to potential buyers."


As the IECC codes continue to change and regulations in each municipality are adopted, it is up to designers and contractors to come up with creative solutions. Lewis-Smith has seen the evolution of design in order to comply with the new codes. "We’ve begun implementing new equipment and technologies, particularly with lighting. LED fixtures and specialized controls products help produce quality environments while complying with the lighting requirements of the codes. In addition, products such as energy recovery ventilators are becoming more economical," he said.

While many solutions and upgrades happen inside the building, contractors are getting creative with exteriors as well. "In the warehouse/manufacturing market, owners do not want exposed insulation to maintain, so we’ve started to do the project out of insulated tilt-up or precast. This provides the R-value and leaves a durable concrete interior and exterior," said Hefley. "The value this method provides outweighs any increase in cost."

Though the changes and costs associated with them may strike owners as negative, the good news is contractors and designers are working together to get out in front of the changes and can offer solutions that result in a successful — and compliant — facility. "MW Builders and the design consultants we team with can help evaluate options to comply with the energy codes. We can also evaluate options at the front end of design and what is the most effective way to achieve these standards," said Hefley. "We understand that the market is driven by costs, and we can help an owner understand up-front costs, life cycle costs, and payback period, so they can make the energy efficient decision that is best for them."

Pictured left to right: Senior Estimator Bryan Hefley and Estimating Manager Ryan Grier work out of the MW Builders Texas and Kansas offices (respectively) and focus on bringing clients cost-effective solutions throughout the construction process.