St. Louis Building Code Update: Raising the Roof (Floor)

Downtown St. Louis


In a move to raise the baseline for community energy efficiency, St. Louis adopted the 2018 IECC, or International Energy Conservation Code, a model code that creates a floor for energy performance in new buildings. Because the IECC update addresses a wide range of energy uses in both commercial and residential construction, including heating and ventilation, lighting, water heating, and power usage for appliances and building systems, this code update will have equally wide-ranging implications for city residents. Mayor Krewson’s signature made this update the latest step in St. Louis’s ongoing commitment to improving its built environment.

Because St. Louis’s buildings are responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the city (estimates peg this at upwards of 75 percent), the City’s comprehensive but targeted approach to addressing building energy use is critical. The updated code will help to control the demand for electricity in new buildings, while other efforts focus on bringing the benefits of energy efficiency to the existing building sector.

Among a multitude of benefits, more efficient buildings in St. Louis will lead to improvements in air quality and community health, and will also benefit the pocketbook by reducing utility costs. Further, energy efficiency efforts support jobs in the clean energy industry such as energy auditors, carpenters, electricians, and more—nearly 15,000 clean energy jobs exist today in St. Louis and those numbers are projected to grow along with the activity to transform the city’s building stock. Adoption of the 2018 IECC will ensure that as the city grows and changes to fit the demands of the future, that growth—those buildings that will be standing for generations to come—will incorporate best practices and will not come at avoidable costs to those future generations.

Buildings in St. Louis: Old and New

Cyborg City Serenade

This has especially strong implications for low-income households. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) 2016 study with the group Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), St. Louis households spend a greater portion of their incomes on energy than households in most other parts of the state. These effects are especially pronounced for African-American households and for renters, including in the large multifamily buildings that are being addressed through the City’s existing-building efforts.

The new code ensures baseline efficiency for new buildings, while there are several city initiatives to address energy use in existing buildings. With wide support from the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, the Building Energy Awareness ordinance was signed into law in January 2017, requiring that owners of large buildings—municipal and private buildings alike—track and report their energy and water usage annually. Benchmarking energy use helps building owners assess the energy use and compare a building’s performance both against itself and against its peer buildings over time. The publicly-available information on building energy efficiency allows tenants and other interested stakeholders to make more informed renting or investment decisions.

The City measured its own buildings’ energy use last December and is already putting that information to use. The top three energy performers, including City Hall, Carnahan Courthouse, and 1520 Market, all received ENERGY STAR certification in April. Energy benchmarking also allowed the city to identify its lowest-performing buildings. As a result, the City can target investments in deep retrofits and retro-commissioning to achieve the greatest impact, not only improving stewardship of taxpayer resources by making wise investments but by reducing spending on future energy costs. This is already happening: St. Louis has been approved for new energy loans through the Missouri Division of Energy Loan Program that will be targeted at energy efficiency projects at four low-performing buildings. These projects alone are expected to pay for themselves in less than three years.

The private sector is seeing results, too. Already, buildings such as the Anthem, a 9-story, 424,000 square-foot office building, and the Missouri Athletic Club have used the results of their benchmarking activity to invest in retrofits that when combined have resulted in over $700,000 annual savings in operational costs. And, this leadership by the City and its local households and businesses takes place in a broader context of growing support for energy efficiency. This benchmarking activity complements the existing Set the PACE St. Louis and Ameren’s various utility incentives, as well as the work of Energy Efficiency for All in improving access to energy efficiency for often-underserved affordable, multifamily buildings. In truly energetic space, the adoption of the 2018 IECC will keep St. Louis competitive with other leading cities, and further demonstrates the City’s comprehensive, solution-oriented approach to improving its built environment.

This post was co-authored with Schneider Fellow HannahZoe Chua-Reyes

About the Authors

Katharine McCormick

Director, City Energy Project, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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