Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are Design Professionals the Key to Energy Code Compliance?

When a design professional (architect, engineer, interior designer, etc.) is responsible for the submission of construction documents to a local jurisdiction, it is commonly understood that the professional seal of that individual means they have approved those documents for compliance with local building codes. However, design professionals often have little or no involvement in overseeing the construction of a project. This leaves a potential gap in what the design professional approves and what is built. 

The state of Wisconsin closed this gap in oversight in 1974 by requiring that a supervising professional oversee construction and sign and submit a Statement of Compliance prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy. This is a state level regulation under Wisconsin Commercial Administrative Rule 61.40 and applies to all buildings over 50,000 cubic feet.  The statement of compliance includes building thermal envelope requirements, interior and exterior lighting and HVAC, as well as health and life safety requirements. The statement of compliance is an acknowledgement by the architect and any other design professionals involved with the project that the building was constructed in substantial compliance with the plans and applicable building codes.   

There is some evidence that this process may be working for energy code compliance in Wisconsin. The State participated in a U.S. Department of Energy-funded Compliance Pilot Study where they conducted an assessment of 44 randomly selected commercial buildings for compliance with the state energy code (IECC 2006/ASHRAE 90.1-04 in effect at the time of the study). They obtained an average compliance rate of 95%.

Admittedly there are other variables that effect code compliance rates, but the Wisconsin model could serve as an effective way to improve energy code compliance. Code officials in Wisconsin also say this model reduces their burden because the supervising professional is overseeing construction and is the one point of contact for the code official when issues arise. In addition, insurers of design professionals say that insurance rates in Wisconsin are no different than those of bordering states without a statement of compliance requirement.  

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