New Energy Star standards mean many D.C. buildings will need upgrading

DC’s new Clean Energy Act of 2018, demonstrates the District’s commitment to addressing the effects of climate change

On Jan. 19, 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018, sweeping legislation that demonstrates the District’s commitment to addressing the effects of climate change. This legislation sets ambitious mandates to reduce D.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2032 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

With nearly 75% of these emissions driven by commercial, multi-unit residential and industrial buildings, the burden will fall significantly on property owners to improve their building’s energy performance. By 2021, the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment will establish new Energy Star standards by building type to determine compliance with the new law.

Many local property owners are likely familiar with the Energy Star score concept. Since the passage of the Clean and Affordable Energy Act in 2008, buildings 50,000 square feet and larger have been required to publicly disclose water and energy usage data and benchmark this data using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, the EPA’s industry-standard tool.

New standards for buildings over 50,000 square feet will be announced by 2021 and will likely be at or above the District’s current Energy Star average of 74 (on a scale of 100). Although these standards have not yet been determined, it is imperative for owners to be proactive. As Todd Spear, vice president of projects at JLL, emphasizes, “Although we are still early in the game, we are actively developing a protocol to help owners get ahead of what’s to come. It all starts with knowing a building’s Energy Star score and how to improve it.”

It is estimated that a good percentage of the District’s existing commercial buildings will need to be upgraded, but the city is already well-ahead of the curve. The median Energy Star score of buildings in the District is 74, well above the national average of 50.

As JLL’s Frank Mobilio, Mid-Atlantic sustainability market leader, explains, “An Energy Star score is just a baseline. At JLL we are encouraging owners to think ahead and invest in building maintenance and upgrades to reduce energy usage and to get ahead of what’s to come. Although these efforts can be time-consuming, they go a long way in driving asset value and performance.”

JLL’s experts want owners to know that meeting Energy Star standards is not the final goal. How buildings are constructed and retrofitted for the future matters, especially for a future likely to experience more significant flooding, more severe storms and higher temperatures. Clean Energy DC is one of many tactical efforts of the Resilient DC initiative, a broader strategic plan that will help the District withstand the stresses and shocks of change through stricter building codes, new flood-resistant construction and education.

Says Mobilio, “This is not just about saving energy. It’s about strengthening our buildings to be durable enough to withstand more intense, frequent and damaging weather-related events. For example, we’ve seen above-average rainfall so far this year, and as a result, we’ve seen more below-grade leaking.

“Buildings are not equipped to handle the impact. We’ve not had to deal with too many ramifications yet, but this is only the beginning. These initiatives will help the District address what’s sure to be a significant challenge.”

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