Improved Data and Procedures Needed for Development and Implementation of Building Energy Performance Standards

EMD-81-2: Published: Dec 23, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 23, 1980.

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The New Buildings Act of 1976 requires the development of building energy performance standards to set limits on the total amount of energy buildings may be designed to use. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) originally had the responsibility for this program; however, the responsibility to develop and promulgate the standards was transferred to the Department of Energy (DOE), leaving the implementation responsibility with HUD. An examination was made of: (1) what still needs to be done before sound standards can be issued; (2) the need to transfer implementation responsibility for the standards from HUD to DOE, and (3) the inappropriateness of the proposed sanction for noncompliance in view of the large decrease in expected energy savings.

The development of the standards has not been smooth, and problems have surfaced with respect to completeness and ease of implementation. The original legislative deadline for final issuance of standards has not been met. Areas which require more work before a sound energy conservation standard is possible include: (1) basing the methodology used to develop the commercial and multifamily building standards on minimum life-cycle costs; (2) expanding the database used for the single-family standards to include more cities; (3) basing weighted factors used to account for energy consumed in the refining of fuel and generation of power on local data, not on national averages; (4) developing standards for mobile homes, restaurants, and industrial buildings; (5) developing means for designers, builders, and local code officials to determine if a building complies with the standards; and (6) considering recent improvements in building design practices when updating the estimate of expected energy savings from the standards. Recent legislation has modified the timetable for the standards, providing DOE with more time to resolve these problems. The implementation responsibility for the program should be transferred to DOE so that the total responsibility for the program will rest with one agency. GAO believes that DOE should consider whether a voluntary program would be a suitable alternative to the sanctions for noncompliance with the standards which the Act contains and which, if imposed, would in effect make them mandatory.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should transfer implementation and enforcement responsibility from HUD to DOE.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should base estimates of energy savings on current construction practices, and also consider the expected amount of non-compliance with the standards in computing the savings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should continue to work on improving the soundness of the standards for the commercial sector so that the basis of the standards is minimum life-cycle cost to the building owner, as is true for the residential sector.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should develop procedures and cost estimates for implementing a voluntary Building Energy Performance Standard and also estimate energy savings that could be expected from such a voluntary program. This effort could assist Congress in making its decision on sanctions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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