New MEEA Study Quantifies Societal Health Benefits Associated with Updated Energy Codes

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How our buildings are constructed determines indoor environmental quality, which can significantly influence our health. The energy code regulates the components and systems that affect the interior environment: for example, it specifies that buildings have tight thermal envelopes to reduce the infiltration of pollutants and appropriate mechanical ventilation to bring fresh air into the home, ensuring healthier indoor air quality. Studies show that stronger energy code provisions can lead to reduced instances of asthma and allergies, as well as improved mental health and productivity in building occupants.

However, the benefits don’t stop there. Adopting and enforcing strong energy codes also has broader community advantages, and the frequency of adoption plays a significant role in capturing them. A new MEEA study documents and quantifies the impact updating residential building energy codes can have on societal health.

The study compares kilowatt-hour (kWh) energy savings between the model energy code and the adopted energy code for new single-family homes in nine Midwestern states over the last 10 years (2009 to 2019). Using the EPA’s Health Benefits per Kilowatt Hour tool – a resource that monetizes the health benefits for each kWh saved—energy cost savings from energy code adoptions, and the associated health-related dollar savings, were calculated. The monetized health and energy savings that actually accrued in each state were compared to a scenario where the state adopted the unamended model energy code within a year of publication. The cost difference between these two scenarios determined the total lost energy and health savings for each state.

The results show that significant kWh energy savings and monetized health savings are unrealized due to delays and modifications in residential energy code adoption. Across the nine states MEEA studied, more than $424 million in monetized energy and health savings from new single-family homes alone has been lost due to weakening code amendments or delayed energy code adoptions.

MEEA hopes this new, quantifiable, state-specific data can be used to help stakeholders recognize the full range of benefits energy efficiency provides to residents and communities. Opportunities to expand this research to include multifamily and commercial buildings are already being explored, and MEEA looks forward to continuing to document the strong connection between health and energy efficiency.