For nearly 5 decades, building energy codes have been a critical policy tool to reduce waste in the use of energy in America’s buildings. More recently, at the state and local level, energy codes have been used increasingly to achieve carbon reductions in the building sector. Because of Constitutional and legal limits, general authorities to promulgate building energy codes are delegated to states and cities and not set by federal rules. Thus, there are variations across the states and cities in the nation, from a complete lack of regulation of energy efficiency in the construction of homes and buildings, such as in South Dakota, to regulations that are approaching net zero levels of energy performance, such as in California. Yet, while myriad versions of energy codes have flowered across the nation, the US federal government retains authority for regulating many appliances and pieces of equipment in homes and commercial buildings, preempting states that desire higher appliance regulations to meet their climate goals.   This inconsistent and split regulatory environment for limiting carbon emissions in the nation’s new construction further complicates efforts in the same states to mandate all-electric construction to take advantage of rapidly greening electric grids.  It is well past time for one or more tiers of clear, consistent, science-based energy and carbon standards to be promulgated and enforced nationally to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. Since buildings built today will be operating at the turn of the next century, this paper creates a framework plan for Congress and the states to begin harmonizing equipment and energy regulation for commercial and residential new construction to make needed progress on carbon reductions from the building sector.


Jim is Director of Policy at New Buildings Institute, where he has worked since 1999.  Jim has served on multiple state code boards and energy policy Advisory Committees. Jim publishes and speaks on stretch codes, on climate policies, and on the carbon and grid impacts of buildings.  He currently serves on ASHRAE 189.1 and on ASHRAE 228p, and recently served on the drafting committee for the ASHRAE Position Document on Building Decarbonization. Jim leads the NBI team in the development of policies for a growing number of jurisdictions seeking to meet carbon neutral goals for their building sectors. He has a Bachelor of Science and an M.B.A. degree from the University of Michigan. Most recent publications include “Establishing Efficiency Criteria for Controlled Horticulture Facilities”, “Can Energy Codes Find the Right Balance Between Two Good Choices: Efficiency and Renewables”, and “Carrots and Sticks in Hot Water: Role of Codes and Policy in Market Transformation”.