City Ordinances on Building Benchmarking

May 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm  •  Posted in News  •  0 Comments

For the past few years, cities have been adopting global climate change initiatives, especially coastal cities who are concerned about the potential effects of rising sea-levels.  As part of climate change plans, some cities started requiring their large buildings to benchmark and disclose energy use.  Additional cities are picking up on this requirement.

The laws generally require building owners to report energy use data using EPA’s ENERGY STAR® BUILDINGS Portfolio Manager Tool.  This is EPA’s online tool for reporting and managing building energy data, used to create a U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR building performance rating.  The ratings compare similar building types and provide a rating between 1 and 100; buildings that score a 75 or higher qualify for an ENERGY STAR building label.   To calculate a rating, a building owner needs to input their energy and water use data from the previous year plus additional data that varies by building type.  There is no cost to use the Portfolio Manager tool available at

A study conducted by the U.S. EPA showed that, on average, buildings that benchmark their energy usage reduce their energy consumption by 7 percent over three years.  Additional studies have shown that having an ENERGY STAR-certified building increases resale value by 8-25 percent, increases rent by 2-14 percent, and increases occupancy rates by 3-11 percent.  The first benchmarking activity in New York and San Francisco resulted in a 30% increase in local energy services businesses.

To date, nine cities have adopted mandatory energy benchmarking requirements including the coastal cities of New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Boston, plus Washington DC, Minneapolis, Austin and most recently Chicago.   In addition, Portland OR and Berkeley CA have voluntary benchmarking programs.

The programs are often implemented in three stages; first city-owned buildings, then private commercial buildings, and finally multi-family complexes being required to benchmark and report data to the city.  However, not all cities require municipal or multi-family building owners to report their buildings energy use. The cities generally don’t publically post the first year’s data on the internet, but begin publically reporting data 2 or 3 years later.  This allows an opportunity for building owners to perform upgrades and improve their score before their score is publically posted.  Some cities just report data in aggregate form, or will just report specific municipal building data. Some cities will not publically disclose data.  There are often additional requirements that vary by city.

For example, in Boston, commercial buildings are required to report by May 15th, 2014 if they are greater than 50,000 sq. ft. or are multiple buildings that sit on the same parcel that equal or exceed 100,000 sq. ft.   By October 1, 2014, the city will only disclose the names of the buildings that reported their value.  Commercial buildings must again report by May 15th, 2015, using energy use data from 2014.  By October 1, 2015, and each year thereafter, the city will publically disclose their actual energy rating.  Every 5 years, the commercial building must complete a building energy assessment or other energy efficiency upgrade activity unless that building is an ENERGY STAR labelled building, or a LEED certified building, or shows consistent improvement, or has a comprehensive energy management plan.

As of September 25th, 2013, New York City became the first city in the nation to publically disclose the energy use information for all public, commercial, and multi-family buildings in the city.   Their website,, lists the Energy Use Intensity (kBtu/ft2) and ENERGY STAR Score in a downloadable excel file on the LL84 Benchmarking page.   New York City also requires all existing buildings to meet the lighting requirements in the 2010 NYC Energy Conservation Building code by 2025.

Table 1 shows a list of the 9 cities that have passed benchmarking requirements including types and sizes of buildings required to register.

Table 1

City Min. Sq. Ft. needed to Benchmark
  Municipal Commercial Multi-Family
New York, NY 10,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft.
San Francisco, CA 10,000 sq. ft. 10,000 sq. ft. None
Seattle, WA 20,000 sq. ft. 20,000 sq. ft. 20,000  sq. ft.
Philadelphia, PA None 50,000 sq. ft. None
Boston, MA All 35,000 sq. ft. 35,000 sq. ft.
Washington, DC 10,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft.
Chicago, IL 50,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft.
Minneapolis, MN 25,000 sq. ft. 50,000 sq. ft. None
Austin, TX All 10,000 sq. ft. Audits Only


Large buildings within the 9 city limits have recently benchmarked, or will benchmark, within the next year or two.  Much of this data will be posted on their city website and become publically available.

Buildings with an ENERGY STAR rating of 75 or higher are already very energy efficient and will have an existing lighting system that is very energy efficient.

The majority of buildings with a score under 75 would benefit from an energy efficient building upgrade.  When building owners evaluate potential energy efficiency projects, the major options are upgraded lighting, upgraded heating and/or cooling systems, and improving the building envelope including new windows and adding Insulation.   Lighting is the easiest existing building retrofit for a building owner to complete and has the shortest payback period.  ENERGY STAR estimates that it is possible to improve an ENERGY STAR building score by as much as 17 points with a lighting retrofit (depending on your existing lighting system.)   Buildings with scores between 50 and 75 should be prime candidates for lighting system upgrades.  Buildings with scores between 25 and 50 would need considerable upgrades of all technologies and most likely contain very old lighting systems.  As most standard T12 fluorescent systems are no longer made, these building owners are probably already being forced to upgrade their building lighting to T8 lamps and electronic ballasts.   Buildings with really low scores, or those that refuse to report, have not been maintained. It may be difficult to convince these building owners to invest money in their facility.  These facilities probably need to be demolished, or sold to a new building owner who is willing to invest in a major renovation.

The buildings that would most likely agree to a lighting building retrofit would have scores between 25 and 75 and should be targeted for potential lighting retrofit opportunities.

If you are in one of the 9 cities, determine when and if the building information will be disclosed. In a few cities, like NY, the building energy information has already been posted on-line.  The easiest place to start is to determine which of the target buildings are current customers of our distributors and approach them with retrofit ideas to help them “improve” their benchmarking score.

Table 2 lists links to website information for each of the 9 cities that have passed ordinances requiring benchmarking.

If you are not located in one of the 9 cities be aware that other cities are considering benching requirements and will pass ordinances requiring benchmarking in future years.

Table 2

New York, NY
Mandatory Energy Audits every 10 years.
All renovations must meet building code.
All lighting systems in existing buildings must meet the 2010 NYC energy conservation code by 2025.
Workforce training, energy efficiency financing, and loan guarantees are available.

San Francisco, CA
Mandatory Energy Audits Every 5 Years.
Download Overview Document
(Note that Commercial Lighting Ordinance on minimum Fluorescent energy efficiency now superseded by higher Federal Requirements.)

Seattle, WA

Philadelphia, PA

Overview of Regulations
Download Benchmarking data
Download Municipal Report now available

Boston, MA
Mandatory Energy Audit every 5 years unless ENERGY STAR, LEED, shows consistent improvement, or comprehensive energy plan in place.

Washington, DC

Chicago, IL—transparency.html

Minneapolis, MN
Frequently Asked Questions

Austin, TX
Select Commercial.  Select E.C.A.D. Ordinance.

Article Courtesy of GE Lighting

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