Rethinking Model Energy Codes For Net Zero Carbon Buildings

ACEEE looks at some of the technical aspects of building energy codes that will get states and localities on a path to net zero carbon buildings.

By Michael Waite, PhD, P.E.
Courtesy of ACEEE

Updating building energy codes is a key policy tool for energy efficiency, but achieving ambitious climate goals will require codes to focus on greenhouse gas emissions, not energy usage alone. With $670 million in upcoming federal funding for implementing zero-energy codes, financial support will soon be available to states and localities.


States and jurisdictions do not typically develop their own codes, but rather adopt model codes—so rethinking the model energy codes is necessary to help states and jurisdictions across the country cut emissions from buildings. In this post, we’ll look at some of the technical aspects of these codes to orient them toward emissions reductions that will get us on a path to net zero carbon buildings.

The benchmark model energy code for commercial and multifamily buildings over three stories is developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and is called ASHRAE Standard 90.1. For residential buildings below three stories, the benchmark model energy code is the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) from the International Codes Council. ASHRAE has committed to a net zero carbon 90.1 model code by its 2031 version, and the International Codes Council has an Energy and Carbon Advisory Council to inform development of the IECC. To meet their climate goals, it’s time for ASHRAE and the International Codes Council to address needed changes in the model codes and the processes by which they’re developed.

Principles to achieve net zero carbon codes

Net Zero Carbon Buildings
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Parradee)

Efficiency, electrification, flexibility, renewables, and addressing non-energy-related building emissions will be essential to net zero carbon model energy codes. I’ll flesh out the role of each principle and collaborate with colleagues in the codes community at the upcoming National Energy Codes Conference, but ultimately, decarbonized model energy codes will need to be achieved through the consensus code-development processes.

Model energy codes need to work for any location across the country, so they need to be effective, adoptable, and enforceable. Four broad principles should guide our work to move toward net zero codes…

To learn about these energy code principles for net zero carbon buildings, continue reading this blog post on the ACEEE website.

Michael Waite ACEEEMichael Waite, PhD, P.E. is senior manager in ACEEE’s Buildings Program. He conducts research related to building energy decarbonization and steers ACEEE’s energy code efforts. Mike leads initiatives that root energy code development and implementation in sound and innovative research in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy affordability in new and existing buildings. He collaborates with others at ACEEE to align building policy with emerging climate policies. He joined ACEEE in 2022.