The Chicago Energy Code Turns Ten

By Linda Seggelke

Ten years ago, the city of Chicago introduced its Energy Conservation Code, based largely on the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). The 2001 Chicago Energy Code was written to increase savings by lessening energy drain both commercially and residentially.

In that time, it has been revised twice: in 2006 and 2009. These revisions have seen some modest gains in efficiency. The 2009 edition, for example, contains a 15% increase in overall energy savings beyond the 2006 book.

New sections have been added over the years, like 18-13-506.6.2 which discusses exterior building light power densities. Section 18-13-505.7 states that in buildings having individual dwelling units, provisions shall be made to determine the electrical energy consumed by each tenant by separately metering individuals units.

The major differences between the different versions of the Chicago Energy Code have covered disparate subtrades. Section 18-13-101, for example, discusses the different slope of roofs and the materials used in each one. Section 18-13-402 covers the building thermal envelope to limit infiltration, fenestration air leakage and sealing recessed light fixtures to limit air leakage between conditioned and unconditioned space.

While Section 18-13-503.4 deals with hydronic systems using 3-pipe systems, two-pipe changeover and water loop heat pump systems, 18-13-503.2 talks about the duct construction, using either low-pressure duct systems, medium-pressure duct systems or high-pressure duct systems.

An addition to section 18-13-404 authorizes the Building Commissioner to require time-of-use pricing in energy cost calculations when dealing with a proposed residence. Once the residence is shown to have an annual energy cost or usage that is less than or equal to that of the standard reference design, there are compliance software tools that can generate a report that documents that the proposed design has low annual energy cost.

In 2012, the Chicago Energy Code will become even more stringent. One consequence of accepting federal stimulus funding is that Illinois must be in compliance with the latest version of the IECC. Illinois has decided to renew on a three-year cycle, meaning that Illinois, and all of its municipalities, must comply with the 2012 IECC next year.

There is an exception for Chicago, however. Being a home rule government, Chicago is awarded the option of doing more than the minimum standard. For most other municipalities, the state requirements have both a floor and a ceiling; they cannot do more and they cannot do less. But Chicago may, and likely will, create a higher standard than what is going on at the state level.

This is not apropos of nothing. The 2006 version of the IECC divided the country into geographic zones. Chicago physically lies in Zone 5, but the city adopted the standards as they related to Zone 6, which is climatically equivalent to Milwaukee. Because of this, changing to a new edition of the IECC is not as difficult, as Chicago has already crafted a higher standard for itself.

One of the biggest changes coming in the next edition, according to Beth Scanlan, Director of Code Development for the Chicago Department of Buildings, has to do with mechanical systems, which weren’t addressed as fully in the past. Also, the now optional blower test to detect a building’s air infiltration problem areas will become required.

Overall, the next edition of the Chicago Energy Conservation Code should see an increase in energy savings similar to earlier versions. “There is an expectation of an additional 15% savings to jump from 2009 to 2012,” said Scanlan. “So we are talking about a 30% increase in efficiencies and cost savings within a six year time period. That’s a pretty significant jump.”

Registered energy professionals—architects and engineers who have been vetted by the city to pre-approve drawings as being energy code compliant prior to submitting for a permit—will also see changes soon as well. “There will probably be additional enforcements put in place in terms of both plan review and inspections,” said Scanlan, adding that those who are already registered with the city will very likely have to recertify once the new version has been adopted.

All of these ordinances have been established to make Chicago more energy efficient. Our wise usage of the energy economy is essential to Chicago staying competitive. Aggressive improvement of energy efficiency in all of Chicago’s buildings, both residential and commercial, is an economic necessity that we cannot overlook.

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