Green Standards and Codes

Doug Clauson

The Foundation of Energy-Efficient Buildings

Building Safety Month emphasizes both the safety and sustainability of buildings and homes. Part of sustainability lies in energy efficiency, which provides many benefits to those who construct and maintain buildings as well as those who work and live in them. At the same time, energy-efficient buildings are crucial to boosting the economy and preserving the environment.

Energy efficiency is becoming a top priority in more and more countries each year. Constructing energy-efficient homes and buildings supports regional economic development, meets growing consumer demand, and saves valuable resources. According to McKinsey & Company, by 2020, the United States alone could reduce energy consumption by 23 percent through energy efficient practices, saving more than $1.2 trillion and 1.1 gigatons (1 Pg) of greenhouse gas emissions each year.1

High performing, energy-efficient buildings are crucial to making that future a reality. These buildings have small ecological footprints. They support healthy indoor environments at low cost. They make the most of sustainable materials. And they involve the best practices in construction and maintenance. In fact, some "net-zero" buildings are so efficient that they generate much of their own energy. In short, energy-efficient buildings do more with less.

The Role of Green Building Standards and Codes

To help advance energy efficiency across the residential and commercial building sector, industry and government stakeholders rely on several green building standards, codes and rating systems. These systems define green building attributes and establish environmentally responsible practices. They go beyond traditional energy usage requirements to promote a higher level of energy efficiency.

Perhaps the most notable code in this sector is the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), developed by the International Code Council in partnership with ASTM International and the American Institute of Architects. The IgCC is the first comprehensive approach to green building codes, including sustainability measures for an entire construction project from design through construction, certificate of occupancy and beyond.

Over 40 ASTM standards across 13 technical committees are referenced in the IgCC. These standards cover a wide range of areas related to design, construction and operations.

ASTM Committees Lead the Way: Five Examples

For example, standards from ASTM Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings support airtightness, restricting the unwanted flow of air through what is called the "building envelope." Controlling air leakage is central to energy efficiency and preventing unwanted heat loss. In addition, heat that escapes carries moisture that can damage buildings and building materials while also decreasing indoor air quality. E06 standards help test and quantify the airtightness of a building envelope and measure air leakage through exterior windows, curtain walls and doors.

ASTM standards also support fast growing areas such as solar power. For home and commercial building owners, solar power offers a clean energy source that leads to lower utility bills, independence from the traditional power grid and a reduced carbon footprint. A growing demand in this area is driving green builders to incorporate the installation of solar arrays in design and construction projects. ASTM Committee E44 on Solar, Geothermal and Other Alternative Energy Sources has created numerous test methods, practices and guides to help builders install roof-mounted photovoltaic arrays and to promote the safe and reliable design, installation and operation of solar heating and cooling systems.

Committee E44 is also working to create standards that help measure and control energy consumption more accurately. Specifically, the group is working on the first U.S. standard related to heat meters. (Heat meters measure the heat quantity that is absorbed or given up by a heat conveying liquid across a heat exchange circuit.) ASTM is working with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials to develop standards that will define the requirements for heat meter instrumentation used in many renewable and conventional thermal energy technologies and hydronic applications.

ASTM standards for cellulose insulation - driven by Committee C16 on Thermal Insulation - are a double-win. First, good insulation is crucial to lowering utility costs for consumers who want to weatherize their homes. According to a study by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, weatherizing every home in the United States would save $33 billion a year in energy costs.2 Second, cellulosic insulation is made from recycled newsprint, paper and cardboard. This kind of insulation is known for being nontoxic, affordable, airtight, mold resistant and flame retardant.

As we approach summer, it's important to remember that traditional roofs can reach temperatures of 66 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit). Cool roofs, however, can stay more than 28 C cooler.3 Cool roofs reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat through solar-reflective surfaces. This saves money on air conditioning while providing a more controllable and constant indoor environment. ASTM Committee D08 on Roofing and Waterproofing has created standards that help designers and consumers select cool roof materials that work for them.

A Game Changing Standard: ASTM E2797

ASTM's leadership in developing energy efficiency standards is evidenced by key standards that have been broadly adopted. E2797, a standard that supports building energy performance assessments across the United States, is a compelling example.

Energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits begin with an audit to collect data on a building's energy use. In a growing number of states, these audits are required to fulfill key regulations. The audits are also highly valued in commercial real estate transactions.

ASTM Subcommittee E50.02 on Real Estate Assessment and Management saw a need for a recognized standard that supports these audits, ensuring accurate and reliable data collection, compilation and analysis of building energy use. E2797 does just that.

E2797 is being used in a number of ways:

  • In Connecticut, the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy program uses E2797 to help commercial, industrial and multi-family building owners obtain affordable, long-term financing for smart-energy upgrades.
  • In Los Angeles, California, the Commercial Building Performance Partnership uses E2797 to provide free energy assessments for qualified non-residential property owners.
  • The Environmental Defense Fund uses the standard for its Investor Confidence Project, a global effort that provides a marketplace for building owners, project developers, financers, insurers, utilities and public programs to trade in standardized energy efficiency projects.

Industry leaders have praised this standard. "E2797 has become a critical foundational tool in the public and commercial property industry across the U.S.," said Anthony Buonicore, an energy efficiency consultant who is also a member of Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and Corrective Action. "This standard provides a clear and precise methodology for building energy use and energy cost data collection and analysis that is consistent, practical and reasonable.

Looking Forward

As ASTM members continue to develop standards that support energy efficiency in buildings, they know that the key to future success is collaboration.

For example, the next iteration of the International Green Construction Code will once again involve multiple organizations. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers will contribute the technical content of ASHRAE standard 189.1. In addition, the new IgCC will be aligned with the popular LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building certification system, which was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

With everyone working together, buildings and homes around the world will become even more energy efficient, bringing immediate and long-term benefits for citizens, businesses and our environment.

Boosting Home Efficiency without Starting from Scratch

Dave Walls, executive director of sustainability programs at the International Code Council, emphasizes that there are many ways that building owners and occupants can save energy in existing homes and buildings. "Going green doesn't necessarily mean starting from scratch, or spending a lot of money," he says. "By choosing energy-efficient building materials and supplies, homeowners can make positive changes to both inside and outside environments. You can insulate walls, floors, attics and basements, and other components that make up the building envelope. Also, you should use high efficiency light bulbs and energy-efficient windows and skylights that can reduce energy and save money in the long run."

Standards for Sustainability in Buildings

An online collection of ASTM Standards for Sustainability in Building provides quick access to 202 ASTM standards that address sustainability or aspects of sustainability relative to buildings and construction.

The online compilation, available as a one-year renewable subscription, includes all of the ASTM standards referenced by the latest editions or versions of:

  • Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers
  • International Green Construction Code (IgCC)
  • Green Globes
  • LEED
  • ASHRAE 189.1


1. "Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy," McKinsey and Company, 2009, .

2. Brown, Alex, "Weatherization Could Save U.S. $33 Billion," National Journal, Oct. 22, 2013.

3. "Cool Roofs," U.S. Department of Energy.

Doug Clauson is a freelance writer based in Wynnewood, Pa.

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