Over the past two years, I’ve had the occasion to ask several groups of structural engineers the question, “When designing a building, do structural engineers have a role in compliance with the energy code?” Out of over 200 engineers surveyed during presentations, about one-third of them responded in the affirmative.
At Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt, we believe that the entire building design team – including the structural engineer – should have at least some awareness of energy code requirements and what it takes to create a high-performance thermal envelope. We find the best outcomes can be reached when the entire project team gets together at the start of a project to establish or go over the basics of the project. This includes construction systems, clarification of who is responsible for what, and yes, which energy code book (IECC or ASHRAE 90.1) and what code compliance path will be used.
There are several aspects of a building’s design in which the structural engineer has a role in ensuring good thermal envelope performance, including:
- Minimizing continuous thermal bridging conditions at lintels, roof edges, shelf angles, balconies, canopies, parapets, etc.
- Considering thermal heat transfer at facade supports and anchors
- Detailing the insulation along the exterior edge of a slab on grade
- Showing continuous foundation insulation
- Coordinating all perimeter structural details to work in concert with the thermal building envelope, especially the continuity of the air barrier system.
Not only can no other member of the design team effectively deal with the above items, but the structural engineering community has developed strategies to properly address all of them. Such responsibility is, in fact, within the purview of a project’s structural engineer. Ever-tightening energy codes and greater expectations of high-performing buildings require the entire building design team to collaborate more than ever before to ensure a successful outcome: reducing energy usage, increasing interior comfort, and minimizing the potential for condensation or other moisture-related problems.
- Jim D’Aloisio