03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rising to the Challenge: Architecture 2030 and Residential Energy Codes

What is the 2030 Challenge and why should we care about residential energy codes? Architecture 2030 is an organization dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of the built environment. Given the environmental impact of buildings, dramatically reducing the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with residential and commercial buildings is the key to reversing global climate change.

To achieve these dramatic reductions, Architecture 2030 has introduced the 2030 Challenge, which calls for an incremental approach to reducing the energy consumptions of buildings, with an ultimate goal of zero energy buildings by 2030.

What do the 2030 Challenge targets mean for residential remodels and new construction? The current, initial goal for residential buildings is a 50% reduction in building energy usage. For those familiar with RESNET"s Home Energy Rating System, which is a "miles per gallon" type rating for a home, a 50% reduction in building energy usage is the equivalent of a HERS Index Score of 65 or less. A HERS Index Score of 65 means that a home is rated to be 35% more efficient than the same house built to code. As a reference point, the current requirements for ENERGY STAR qualification for a home is a HERS Index Score of 85, or 15% above-code performance.

It is estimated that 35% above-code performance (or a HERS 65) for all new or remodeled residential construction would effectively halt the increase of greenhouse gas emissions for the residential building sector. While the 2030 Challenge calls for increased reductions in energy usage over time, with an ultimate goal of zero energy homes by 2030, the challenge sets realistic, achievable goals that are meant to meet the building industry "where it is." The immediate target of achieving HERS Index scores of 65 for residential buildings can be met by incorporating low-cost measures that should be "best practices" in the construction industry - incorporating adequate insulation levels, "tight" construction (along with proper ventilation), placing all ducts inside conditioned space, installing above-code mechanical equipment and ENERGY STAR appliances and windows.

The 2030 Challenge targets have been adopted in one form or another at the federal, state and municipal levels - for example, President Obama's recent Executive Order calls for immediate energy reductions for federal buildings and requires all new and remodeled federal buildings to be zero energy by 2030. Additionally, the Department of Energy's Building America Builders Challenge program has a stated goal of all zero energy homes by 2030. In addition, the 2030 Challenge has been formally adopted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the American Institute of Architects, the States of New Mexico, Washington, Illinois, Minnesota, the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, the Cities of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Richmond, Virginia and Santa Barbara, California. In addition, many of the largest architecture firms in the country and many other regional firms and organizations have committed to reducing the energy consumption of the building sector by adopting the Challenge.

As residential energy codes become more and more mainstream, adequate education and training is essential to ensure proper implementation. Oftentimes, additional training is needed so that building code officials, municipal staff, local governments, contractors and architects understand the building science behind high-performance homes. For example, as homes become less leaky and "tighter," it's important that contractors understand the importance of indoor moisture control measures and proper ventilation. Home energy performance can be quantified with the Home Energy Rating System (or "HERS") - for many architects and developers, the HERS system can be a "black box," as it's not readily apparent how changes in building design and specifications will change the energy score of a home. An experienced HERS Rater should be able to explain the "behind-the-scenes" operation of energy modeling software and give architects and contractors the information that they need to understand how changes in home design, insulation and mechanical systems will impact the overall energy performance of the building.

Populus Sustainable Design Consulting, a Boulder-based residential energy consulting firm and adopter of the 2030 Challenge, has worked with municipalities nationally to aid in the implementation of performance-based energy codes, particularly those that target above-code levels of energy performance. Populus offers an Energy Code Workshop targeted to municipal staff, code officials, county commissioners, city council and/or local building trade organizations. In addition, Populus offers an Energy Design Workshop which gives architects hands-on, real world experience working with an energy rater to design buildings that achieve above-code home energy performance within a budget. Populus also offers consulting and residential case studies to assist states and municipalities in setting above-code residential energy performance standards that meet their goals.

Populus is a full service sustainable design consulting firm that focuses on high performance, net-zero and near-net-zero custom residential and multi-family projects. Populus guides architects and builders through the requirements of mandatory green building codes and optional green home certification programs, providing HERS rating, LEED for Homes Green Rater services and LEED for Homes training.