Building Energy Standards

Building energy codes set minimum requirements for energy-efficient design and construction of new and renovated buildings that impact energy use over the life of the building. By reducing energy use, these codes can save building owners money while also reducing the pollution in the state that comes from burning fossil fuels for energy.

Wisconsin’s current state-level building energy codes correspond to relatively outdated recommendations from the International Code Council (ICC). Residential buildings in Wisconsin are currently required to meet 2006 standards, with commercial buildings required to meet 2009 standards.

Key Points

  • Creating green building codes can help homeowners and businesses reduce energy costs and reduce pollution.
  • With 2006 codes for residential buildings and 2009 codes for commercial buildings, Wisconsin is falling behind its Midwest neighbors who already use 2012 building energy guidelines.
  • Upgrading to a level of efficiency in keeping with 2012 standards could save the average Wisconsin resident almost $700 a year.[1]
Clean Wisconsin's Work

Clean Wisconsin advocates for updated building codes and ordinances to reflect improvements in energy-efficient building materials, techniques, and technologies. For the past 20 years Clean Wisconsin has worked closely with the Department of Commerce and the Department of Administration to achieve timely updates of the state commercial and residential building codes. Clean Wisconsin has been represented by technical experts on the state’s codes revision committees, and when necessary, Clean Wisconsin used the courts to force upgrades in the codes. Clean Wisconsin also led efforts to establish state laws requiring periodic review and upgrading of the state’s building codes.

Questions and Answers

What kinds of energy measures are covered by building codes?
Building codes, like the International Energy Conservation Code, contain a wide variety of energy efficiency requirements. One key component is requirements on building insulation and thermal properties, including walls, floors, roofs, windows, ductwork, and pipes. Appliance efficiency standards are often also included – for items like furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners – as are requirements on air leakage.
Other components, like lighting power standards and in-depth heating, ventilation, and air conditioning requirements, generally apply only to commercial buildings.

What is the IECC?
The IECC, or International Energy Conservation Code, is a model building code created by the International Code Council (ICC) for both commercial and residential buildings. It has been adopted by many state and local governments throughout the United States to establish minimum design and construction criteria for energy efficiency.

How often are energy codes updated?
Traditionally, the IECC has been updated every three years, with the newest and most energy-efficient version appearing in 2012. While other model codes such as ASHRAE 189.1 are used to a lesser degree, IECC remains the most common.[2]

How much more energy efficient are the updated codes?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, efficiency improvements in the 2012 IECC over the previous two iterations are substantial. Both commercial and residential buildings adhering to the 2012 code achieve approximately 15% higher energy efficiency over those built to the 2009 code and 30% more than 2006.[3]

What is energy benchmarking?
Adopted by several states and cities, energy benchmarking laws require that all eligible buildings measure and catalogue their energy usage. These policies can also include disclosure of building energy performance for public viewing. This can further incentivize energy efficiency, as better-performing buildings are more attractive to potential buyers or leasers. Communities have found broad support for these policies, even from owners of “lemon” buildings, as documenting inefficiencies can make poorly-performing buildings eligible for funding to improve their energy efficiency. Benchmarking policies can be very effective, evidenced by a California study which found that 84% of participants either implemented or planned to implement energy efficiency retrofits or operational improvements to their buildings as a result of their state-wide benchmarking process.[4]

What is the difference between building codes and building rating systems/ certification programs?
Whereas building energy codes require a certain minimum level of performance for all buildings, building rating systems and certification programs provide voluntary guidelines for higher-performance buildings. Building rating systems also often cover things such as recycling and water use that aren’t covered by codes.

Are building codes or rating systems/ certification programs better for energy efficiency?
Building energy codes and rating or certification programs are generally aimed at different targets – codes raise the efficiency of low-performing buildings, while certifications raise the efficiency (and other types of performance) of higher-performing buildings. However, in some places rating or certification programs have also been used as baseline goals for all buildings. Where this has been done, both energy codes and certification goals are in place, which can raise the bar on performance across the board.
In developing energy-efficient building policies, a community may choose either to incentivize or require more stringent building codes (like the 2012 IECC) or energy-efficient building certification through a rating system (such as LEED). Building codes generally have more specific energy requirements to achieve a guaranteed level of performance, but require trained staff for inspection and enforcement. On the other hand, building rating systems are generally less comprehensive than codes, but can push for higher levels of performance while requiring only verification of an outside certification.

What is LEED?
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, and operation of “green” buildings developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The suite of rating systems covers a variety of specific building types, but also covers general categories such as residential and commercial buildings. Points are awarded for different categories, including water efficiency, energy and atmosphere. Buildings can qualify for basic, silver, gold, or platinum certification, depending on the number of points awarded. While LEED is the most common rating system, others have recently entered the fray, including the Focus on Energy New Homes Program in Wisconsin.[5]

Quick Facts
  • Roughly 41% of energy consumed in the U.S. in 2010 was used in buildings – about 40 quadrillion Btu. Of this total, 55% came from the residential sector, while 45% came from the commercial sector.[6]
  • For residential buildings, 29 states have adopted energy efficiency codes that are more stringent than Wisconsin’s, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan in the Midwest.[7]
  • Wisconsin is doing better with commercial buildings, where it is on-par with codes in 33 other states at the 2009 IECC level.[8]
  • A recent analysis determined that if all states adopted the 2012 ICC International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and achieved full compliance by 2013, the annual savings by 2030 would be an estimated: 3.5 quadrillion Btu of energy, $40 billion in real 2008 dollars, and 200 million metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide.[9]
  • Across the country, hundreds of local government entities have instituted energy efficiency policies for buildings beyond statewide codes. These range widely in scope, from voluntary to mandatory, incentives to requirements, and apply to different sectors – residential, commercial, and government.[10]
Wisconsin Data, Trends, and Legislation

Wisconsin’s current energy codes require that residential buildings meet the 2006 IECC guidelines, and that commercial bulidings meet the 2009 IECC guidelines. According to a recent DOE analysis however, building an average Wisconsin home to the standard of the 2012 IECC guidelines (compared to the currently required guidelines) would result in a 30-year life-cycle cost savings of $10,733. This includes average annual energy savings of $672 (34.2% lower energy costs), net positive cash flows in the first year, and a payback period of 4.4 years.[1]

A few local governments in Wisconsin have adopted energy-efficient building policies. For example, Milwaukee County and the City of Madison require new municipal buildings to be LEED certified, and La Crosse requires a completed LEED checklist be submitted for newly proposed commercial buildings. However, these governments are limited in what they can require (especially for residential buildings) by state statute.

Current Law

In Wisconsin, all residential buildings (one- and two-family dwellings and multifamily dwellings which are 3 stories or less) are required to meet standards corresponding to 2006 IECC guidelines under the state’s Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC). Commercial buildings must meet standards corresponding to 2009 IECC Guidelines.[11]

Wis. SPS 66.1019(1) requires that local residential building ordinances in Wisconsin must conform to, and not be made any more restrictive than, the state Uniform Dwelling Code. This means that a community cannot require increased energy efficiency beyond state code for any residential buildings.[12]

Cited Resources
  1. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Building Technologies Program (April 2012). “Wisconsin Energy and Cost Savings for New Single- and Multifamily Homes.”
  2. International Code Council (2012). “2012 International Energy Conservation Code.”
  3. P. Cole (n.d.). “National Residential and Commercial Energy Codes.”U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Building Technologies Program.
  4. NMR Group, Inc. and Optimal Energy, Inc. (April 2012). “Statewide Benchmarking Process Evaluation, Volume 1: Report.” Prepared for the California Public Utilities Commission. Study ID: CPU0055.01.
  5. U.S. Green Building Council (2011). “USGBC: LEED.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from
  6. U.S. Energy Information Administration (2012). “U.S. Energy Consumption by Sector.” 2012 Annual Energy Review.
  7. U.S. Department of Energy (n.d.). “Residential Building Energy Codes.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from
  8. U.S. Department of Energy (n.d.). “Commercial Energy Codes.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from
  9. Alliance to Save Energy (November 2010). “Potential Savings from Adopting the 2012 IECC.”
  10. S. Gruder (n.d.). “Government Green Building Programs Inventory.” University of Wisconsin System, UW Extension. Web. Retrieved 2012 from
  11. U.S. Department of Energy (n.d.). “Wisconsin, Status of State Building Codes.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from
  12. Wisconsin Legislature. “Wisconsin Legislative Documents: SPS 66.1019(1).” Web. Retrieved 2012 from


Did we miss something? Let us know by emailing

You can support our work by becoming a member of Clean Wisconsin at

Please cite this resource as: Clean Wisconsin, Inc. “Building Energy Standards.” Clean Wisconsin Enviropedia. Retrieved from