March 27, 2018

Revised Energy Standard Determined to Foster Greater Energy Efficiency in Commercial Buildings

PNNL building energy code experts contribute to development and analytical support of Standard 90.1-2016

With implementation of Standard 90.1-16, DOE estimates commercial buildings will achieve 8.3 percent in energy cost savings.

A revised energy standard that establishes minimum energy-efficiency requirements for commercial buildings has undergone review and analysis by DOE, with the updates deemed to improve energy efficiency. A final determination(Offsite link) was issued on February 27.

Standard 90.1-2016, Energy Standard for Buildings, Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, is published and maintained by ASHRAE(Offsite link). The Standard provides minimum energy-efficient requirements for design and construction of new buildings and their systems, new portions of buildings and their systems, and new systems and equipment in existing buildings.

Researchers from PNNL’s Building Energy Codes Program significantly contributed to the development and revisions to the Standard, which was last updated 2013. Based on analysis conducted by the research team, DOE estimates national savings for commercial buildings to be about 8.3 percent in energy cost savings, 7.9 percent savings in source energy (the total amount of raw fuel required to operate a building), and 6.8 percent savings in site energy (the amount of heat and electricity consumed by a building as reflected in a utility bill).

Standard 90.1 is continuously maintained, with changes compiled and published every three years. Changes included in the new 2016 Standard(Offsite link) include the following:

  • A new optional whole-building performance path provides increased flexibility by allowing trade-offs between design strategies that have significant energy impacts, but have not traditionally been regulated by code requirements, such as building orientation, HVAC system type and size, and use of thermal mass. Previously, this path was only available for rating the performance of buildings that exceed the requirements of Standard 90.1 for “beyond code” programs, such as the LEED Rating System. It can now also be used to demonstrate minimum energy code compliance.
  • Building envelope modifications were made to include increased stringent requirements for metal building roofs and walls and opaque doors, as well as improved clarity for defining exterior walls, building orientation, and calculation procedures for insulating metal building walls.
  • Lighting modifications were incorporated for maximum exterior and interior lighting power allowances to reflect continued technology and market shifts toward LED technology, as well easier application of advanced lighting controls.
  • Mechanical aspects were included such as monitoring chilled water plants for energy use and efficiency, as well as efficiency and rating requirements for dedicated outdoor air systems.

"Beyond the new ASHRAE Standard, building energy codes represent a very large savings opportunity for U.S. homes and businesses, potentially $102 billion in net cost savings and 12.8 quads of primary energy between 2010 and 2040," said David Nemtzow, Director of DOE's Building Technologies Office and acting Building Energy Codes Program Manager. “The PNNL team’s work supporting the development and analysis of code changes on building energy efficiency is central to not only allowing the Department to meet our statutory responsibilities, but also to informing states and localities of the benefits and costs to their specific location on moving to more energy-efficient codes so that they can make well-informed decisions.”

DOE’s determination encourages national and international adoption of the new edition of Standard 90.1 or comparable codes. Many U.S. states consider the determination and supporting analysis as they review and update their own building energy codes. PNNL’s Building Energy Codes research is supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy(Offsite link).

Key Capabilities


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: March 27, 2018

PNNL Research Team

Michael Rosenberg, Bing Liu, Reid Hart, Eric Richman, Mark Halverson, Jian Zhang, Yulong Xie, Supriya Goel, and Yan Chen