Understanding U.S. energy regulations and standards
Energy regulations play a key role in helping reduce energy consumption. They set the mandatory requirements for new building construction and major renovations.
The nation’s top building energy codes and standards—Part 6 of Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 —are used by every U.S. state as the basis for local building energy codes. These codes contain the mandatory lighting requirements that architects, designers, engineers and builders must meet for commercial and residential new construction or major renovation projects.
Take a moment to look at your state’s regulations: U.S. Energy Code Regulations by State Tool.
What’s new in 2024 for non-residential building energy requirements?
In September 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy announced:
The impact of energy regulations
In practical terms, energy regulations aim to reduce energy consumption. The goal is to reduce human impact on climate change. The latest global trend focuses on achieving net-zero emissions status. That means running entirely on renewable energy.
Many states have outlined plans and dates for achieving net-zero emissions status. The U.S. has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Potential drawbacks of energy regulation are real, too.
Hasty regulating without considering all potential use-case scenarios and consequences can have inefficient and problematic outcomes.
“Use of occupancy sensors in a daylit space can mean that lights come on when they are not needed,” lighting designer Christine Culver noted in an article about occupancy sensor controls, adding that some lighting controls require location-specific commissioning, have higher power requirements and “are prone to false-on triggers.”
Certain energy regulations problems are well known throughout the industry. For example, one California study found that reducing water flow caused backups or pipe problems. Other problems, according to a report by American Home Shield (AHS), which was created in 1971 to protect homeowners from the inconvenience and cost of unexpected breakdowns, include flushing, noise and water pressure. Low-flow toilets “rely on a pressure-assisted system that makes a distinctive ‘whooshing’ sound which tends to be louder than a regular toilet flush.”AHS also discovered that, these reduced water flow toilets may not force waste far enough down the drain, which can lead to clogged pipes and other plumbing problems. “Because they use a reduced volume of water and may apply less pressure than a regular toilet,” AHS notes, “low-flow toilets do not always flush waste as well as their standard counterparts. A second or third flush is sometimes needed to ensure heavy waste has cleared the bowl, requiring the consumption of more water and rendering the toilet less efficient.” The article cites additional problems in older homes—because “[t]he older the house, the greater the chance your plumbing may require adjustment or replacement in order to be compatible with low-flow toilets. This can lead to installation taking more time and being more expensive than anticipated.”
States leading the way on energy policy
Four states have codes that override and exceed Federal energy regulation:
- The California Building Standards Commission (Title 24)
- Vermont Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES)
- New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC)
- Washington State Energy Codes (WSEC)
California’s Title 24 currently imposes the most stringent set of regulations. On the other end of the spectrum, states like Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Alabama are less restrictive. These states currently abide by the IECC’s 2015 standards.
Commercial lighting standards for 2024
Regulatory changes for 2024 will bring the following four terms to the forefront of commercial lighting regulation discussions. These are the most significant energy regulation updates set for 2024 across the country.
Lighting Power Allowance
The Lighting Power Allowance (LPA) is the maximum allowed watts per square foot. In California’s Title 24, the LPA is being reduced from .65 to .6 watts per square foot in 2023. The 2024 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which will be available in the first quarter of 2024, will also likely address reductions to interior LPA.
Open Office Occupancy Controls
Occupant sensor controls are typically used in open-plan office spaces, cafeteria dining spaces, and fast-food dining spaces. Under regulations like Title 24, controls must be configured so general lighting can be controlled in “zones,” with floor areas not greater than 600 square feet. General lighting in each controlled zone should turn off after 20 minutes of occupants leaving a particular zone.
Automatic Daylighting Controls
Automatic daylighting controls refer to a photosensor and switch or dimming control unit. The photosensor is mounted to the interior wall, ceiling, or light fixture within the daylighting zone. It sends a signal to the control unit when the preset lighting threshold is reached to reduce electrical light levels in a particular zone.
Daylighting zones include:
- primary side-lighting
- secondary side-lighting
Primary and secondary side-lighting zones are illuminated by windows, while top-lighting zones are illuminated by skylights.
Automatic Receptacle Control
Automatic Receptacle Control, also known as plug-load control, is required to reduce building energy use. The government control limits energy consumption at electrical receptacles during non-occupied times, which reduces what the government deems “unnecessary energy usage and cost and supports sustainability.” In addition, some states require these receptacles as part of code requirements.
Receptacle controlling methods include:
- Schedule-based or timer-based receptacles that can switch off at programmed times
- Occupancy-based sensor which must turn off electrical outlets within 20 minutes of all occupants leaving a space
- System-based signal from another control or alarm system which must turn off electrical outlets within 20 minutes after determining that the area is unoccupied.
Demand Responsive Lighting Controls
Demand Responsive Lighting Controls utilize control mechanisms to dim lighting levels during periods of high grid-wide demand, primarily to aid utilities in maintaining grid stability. According to the Demand Responsive Lighting Control Declaration of California’s Title 24, (Part 6, Section 110.12(a)1B)
Energy credit measures for lighting
IECC 2024 is adding additional efficiency credits to align with the new credit option included in ASHRAE 90.1 in 2022. Credits are likely to be available for the following:
- Dimming and tuning
- More occupancy sensors
- Increase in daylight areas
- Light power reduction
Alcon Lighting creative director and co-founder David Hakimi works to improve lighting through research, development and education. David strives for efficiency in lighting, affording architects, lighting designers and engineers the ability to maximize LED lighting design and application. David is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received a Bachelors in history. David also studied lighting design at IES in Los Angeles. He traces his and Alcon Lighting’s commitment to innovation, accountability, quality and value to lessons learned from his father, Mike Hakimi, a lighting craftsman, salesman and consultant in Southern California for more than four decades. Today’s lighting for commercial use requires a deep, complete understanding of smart lighting systems and controls. David takes pride in his lighting, energy controls and design knowledge. He is driven by the desire to share his insights into lighting specification and application. This quest to share his knowledge was the impetus for David to create Insights, Alcon Lighting’s blog and resource center for helping the reader understand lighting and its application to space.