Who Cares About Energy Codes?
The architect’s guide to New York City’s
aggressive carbon reduction code

In 2025, New York City will become one of the first cities in the world to adopt a predicted energy use code, as part of Local Law 32 of 2018. Building Energy Exchange’s Architect Advisory Council’s 2020 initiative has shown that the profession must radically adapt to meet these ground-breaking requirements, and provides actionable recommendations to catalyze the design and construction of predicted energy use code compliant buildings, as well as the integration of high performance building practices in architecture.

The recommendations from the Architect Advisory Council span three key topics:

About the Architect Advisory Council

Executive Summary

How to Take Action and Embrace Energy Codes

Profession Understanding the Architect’s Role in Energy Performance

At the 2019 American Institute of Architects (AIA) national convention, member delegates voted to declare a climate emergency and adopted the Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Climate Action. The Resolution states that an architect’s duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants now includes addressing how buildings contribute to climate change. The Resolution represents a sea change in the acknowledgement of architects’ responsibility to decarbonize the building industry. This change requires a fundamental shift in architectural practice, from integrating the tools and processes needed to evaluate climate impact, to setting energy performance goals with clients.

what’s changing?
City laws will now require buildings to meet new energy performance thresholds at permitting, as well as during occupancy, or face financial penalties. Having clearly defined expectations from the outset of the project on the energy performance outcome of the building and the effort required to uphold those expectations by architects, engineers, contractors, owners, and tenants will create more successful outcomes.

what do we need to do?
Set performance goals and expectations with the project owner at the outset and prioritize energy-related decisions — often considered too late in the design process when changes are ineffective and costly — in schematic design or earlier. Architects and project owners should agree at the outset of the projects to:

  • Set a specific and measurable energy performance goal and leverage electrification strategies for GHG emissions reduction and design standards such as Passive House, Net Zero, or LEED, for greater energy efficiency
  • Pursue energy modeling at each stage of the design and construction process, including early, conceptual exploration. Discussing the associated benefits of energy modeling, as well as the cost, with the project owner will encourage buy-in
  • Support future operational energy maintenance by submetering tenant spaces and installing a Building Management System with machine learning capabilities
  • Once performance expectations and goals are set, create a checklist to help track development of the building’s energy-related design components throughout the project to ensure the desired result

54%In a survey of 78 architecture firms in NYC, about half are not usually involved in setting the Owner’s project performance goals


Risk, Liability, & Compensation

what’s changing?
Contractually, architects hold most of the responsibility (and much of the liability) for a building project. However their control over the project outcomes, especially related to energy performance, can be limited. Over the last several decades, architectural contracts have evolved to protect architects against risk. This has come at the expense of authority over contracts and higher levels of compensation, causing practitioners to be marginalized with little control over the outcome of their projects. These new laws (Local Law 32 and Local Law 97) may make architects a target for lawsuits related to financial penalties imposed on poorly performing buildings. The further marginalization of practitioners must be resisted — and reversed — for architects to successfully lead the design and construction of compliant, climate positive buildings.

what do we need to do?
The design services contract needs to be modified to better reflect the level of effect and risk associated with building performance related tasks, which can vary greatly between different standards, jurisdictions, codes, and compliance requirements. Creating a task-oriented approach can better align compensation with the effort required for each task and reduce conflicts over defining additional tasks as extra services rather than part of a base contract.
Furthermore, appropriate liability limitations, related to energy performance, GHG emissions and other performance metrics, must be clearly defined in legal contracts. Architects should engage their counsel for advice regarding performance liability.

  • Itemize services, such as energy code compliance or performance standard certifications, separately, recognizing the true design costs
  • Recommend third party (liability) review process to ensure compliance

37%In a survey of 78 NYC architecture firms, respondents reported sub-contracting directly with consultants for only 37% of projects


read: Gaining Consensus on Contracts

Performance Design Strategy

what’s changing
Starting in 2024, New York City’s Local Law 97 (LL97) will place stringent annual GHG emission limits on new and existing buildings. Even many buildings with LEED Gold certification will likely face future fines, if building energy use is not reduced. Architects must work to decarbonize the building industry by designing to ambitious energy performance standards that eliminate the use of GHG emissions.

what do we need to do?


  • Specify all-electric equipment in buildings to help achieve LL97 compliance by reducing GHG emissions (based on the State’s commitment to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2040)
  • Reduce a building’s energy demand by leveraging passive heating and cooling strategies, high performance equipment and appliances, and building an airtight, highly insulated building envelope. Consider using the Passive House standard to reduce a building’s energy demand while increasing occupant health and comfort
  • Design to net zero carbon emissions, where a building is fully powered from on- or off-site renewable energy, to reduce or eliminate GHG needed to power the building*

*not all off-site renewable energy counts towards net zero or LL97 rules


Energy Design Tools

what’s changing
Starting in 2025, New York City’s energy code will require all projects 25,000 sq ft or greater to submit an energy model for compliance. Architects must become fluent in building energy performance and leverage the robust tools of energy modeling, from project concept to completion, to achieve energy performance requirements and truly lead on climate action.

what do we need to do?

  • Utilize software to make energy modeling and design seamless
  • Involve project designers, MEP engineers, and energy modeling consultants early in the process
  • Simplify ways to communicate energy modeling data to the team as well as the project owner
  • Address the future impact of climate change by using climate projections, as well as current weather data in energy modeling calculations

There are many different types of energy models that are each appropriate for different stages of the design process (see read: Energy Design Tools sidebar). Begin performance design early during schematic design with simple energy models that test options and concepts with respect to anticipated building performance. Continue to utilize energy models during design development and construction documentation to ensure the design stays on track to achieve performance goals. During construction administration, track changes in a calibrated energy model so that when the building is handed over to the owner, an accurate prediction of energy performance is captured.

30%In a survey of 78 architecture firms in NYC, only 30% conduct in-house energy modeling


read: Energy Modeling Education

read: Energy Design Tools

Process Integrating Performance into Design and Construction Process

The shift towards low- to no-carbon buildings in NYC and across the United States is at opposition with today’s standard practice of design and construction. The business as usual process deters collaboration and siloes architects, engineers, contractors, and other practitioners into smaller, segmented roles. In standard practice, energy performance is often considered solely the responsibility of the mechanical engineer, and considered after many critical design decisions have already been made. Building performance, however, spans across all disciplines and permeates nearly every decision throughout the design and construction process. A new delivery model that improves coordination and facilitates collaboration across disciplines will result in high performing buildings that support New York City’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050.

read: Energy Performance Design is the New Accessibility Requirement

Process A New Business as Usual

Today’s standard defers energy performance design to late stages of project delivery. As the project becomes more absolute, proposed changes decrease in effectiveness and increase in cost, leaving little room for improvement from the baseline.

A new business as usual prioritizes energy performance upfront, leaving plenty of opportunities for iteration and collaboration, resulting in highly effective performance innovations without increasing project cost.

Practice Creating a Streamlined and Integrated Practice

New York City has some of the most ambitious building performance policies and regulations in the United States. In 2025, New York City will become one of the first cities in the world to adopt a predicted energy use code, as part of Local Law 32 of 2018. Starting in 2024, buildings 25,000 sq ft and above will be required to meet GHG emissions limits or face financial penalties. These regulations trigger significant changes to the way buildings are designed and constructed, putting designers at the center of effective climate action. To deliver on this GHG reduction imperative, architects must work with building officials to streamline processes, increase accountability, reduce obstacles, and foster effective stakeholder collaboration.

The Performance Gap

what’s changing
Starting in 2025, New York City’s predicted energy use code will require an energy modeling submittal that measures a building’s designed performance for all projects 25,000 sq ft or greater. Due to many factors, including constructability challenges, lack of proper commissioning, and building operations and/or occupancy patterns not occurring as designed, the energy model submitted and approved for code compliance does not typically match actual energy use once the building is occupied. Architects must close the gap between predictive energy models and actual building energy use to deliver the project’s intended performance and comply with New York City’s aggressive efficiency and performance targets.

what do we need to do?
Adopt practices that close the gap between the energy model submitted for code compliance and the actual building energy use once occupied. Design teams should:

  • Calculate GHG emissions in the energy model submitted for code compliance
  • Conduct site observations at key construction milestones to ensure the building is built to the intended design performance
  • Maintain a calibrated energy model during construction to track all design changes and ensure those changes do not undermine the performance target
  • Conduct post-occupancy evaluations to identify any discrepancies in performance
  • Encourage owners to include energy performance expectations in tenant lease agreements, such as limiting energy use to aid compliance with LL97

Verification & Accountability

what’s changing
Navigating New York City’s quickly changing and increasingly ambitious building codes and regulations adds a level of complexity to the design and construction process, and raises the stakes for delivering projects that perform below the imposed GHG emissions limits. Projects must have tighter verification and accountability during all stages of the design and construction process and each stakeholder’s responsibility to deliver the required outcome must be clearly defined. Architects must incorporate practices that encourage collaboration, such as integrated project design, and ensure projects deliver on expectations.

what do we need to do?
Incorporate practices that increase verification and accountability. Advocate for them to be basic standards of practice to encourage all stakeholders to fulfill their roles in achieving project performance targets, including:

  • Document performance goals established at the outset of the project and use the document as a reference throughout the design and construction process
  • Ensure code submittal demonstrates technical sufficiency for energy code compliance
  • Increase oversight during construction and advocate for commissioning at project completion

Conclusion The Path Forward

read: Credits

Architects have a generational opportunity, as well as a professional and ethical responsibly to the public good, to lead the effort to slash the 40% of total global GHG emissions attributable to buildings. New York City’s climate action commitment is a critical opportunity for architects to demonstrate this leadership, leading the building industry’s dramatic transformation to reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050. Rather than abdicating responsibility for building energy performance to others, architects must embrace energy as a fundamental design element, equivalent to light and air, creating climate positive buildings. The business as usual design approach of the future must focus on building performance. Architects, engineers, other design professionals, and their clients — must reevaluate and change their current practices. Integrated project delivery models that other an alternative to current processes will encourage a higher level of collaboration and can dramatically improve outcomes.

New York’s climate action commitment also presents an opportunity for architects to expand their services and business ventures. Architects must do more of the services they are already familiar with, such as energy modeling and construction administration, as well as less familiar services such as energy commissioning, energy model reconciliation, and post-occupancy evaluations, which help ensure their projects are fulfilling their promise of GHG reduction. Architects must step into their role as master coordinator by designing the process as well as the project. An architect’s job is no longer over at the end of construction. As stewards of the built environment, they must help ensure building performance during occupancy, and can use this imperative to create new business ventures and leadership opportunities. The profession must adapt to ensure that architects lead the process of meeting these new performance goals, creating a healthier built environment for the commons and the commonwealth.

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