Washington DC has long been a leader in green building, and LEED has been the rating system of choice in the district for decades. In recent years many real estate owners, developers, and architects have been asking, “what’s next for sustainable building?”

DCRA and DOEE are about to answer that question.

November 5th marked a proverbial tipping point for sustainable building in Washington DC – and it had nothing to do with election day. November 5th commenced DCRA and DOEE public outreach regarding the next iteration of the DC Green Code with bonus content about programs that are making Sustainable DC a reality.

Local DC government, driven by Sustainable DC, wants to cut the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by half by 2032, and become Carbon Neutral by 2050.


Here’s how:

  • The District Clean Energy Plan targets 50% Energy Use Reduction through Net Zero Construction, and 50% sourcing of energy usage from renewable sources.
  • The proposed DC green code will require Net Zero Energy for residential new construction by 2022 and commercial requirements will be set by 2026.  Existing building policy will be developed with adoption timeline to full enactment by 2032.
  • Developers that will ensure consideration for leasing by federal government and government agencies will respond to Net Zero Energy by 2030.
  • The baseline code will be ASHRAE 90.1-2013 with some amendments from ASHRAE 189. This is similar to NYC Energy Code 2016 which is undergoing a further upgrade with a 2018 revision.

There are additional options. DC is offering alternative compliance paths through Living Building Challenge, PassivHaus, and Net Zero Energy for developers that prefer a familiar certification system to back-check high performance building goals.

If certification is not an ideal option, developers can follow the DC Code Appendix Z, which presents a voluntary pathway to encourage early-adopters to lead the way and prime the building industry for the city’s net-zero goals.

And the good news is there is no penalty! You can set the target at net-zero, and as long as your project meets code minimum, the District will not withhold permits.

It is not just the DC green code that is charting a post-LEED trajectory. ASHRAE is expected to hit net-zero energy by 2030, which is a mere 11 years from now.  This means that the code will require Net Zero Energy with the updated iteration of 90.1-2030.

What you should do now:

  • Give feedback about the codes! The full set of proposed codes is available online, and the public comment period is until Monday, November 12th. You can submit comments to Jill Stern, Chairperson, Construction Codes Coordinating Board, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 Fourth Street, S.W., Room 5100, Washington, D.C. 20024, or via e-mail at stern@dc.gov. There will be a second comment period in early 2019 with enactment to follow.
  • Developers should update their proformas and get familiar with gap financing options. It also helps to be the first to learn how to meet net zero.

As someone who works on green building projects around the world and of all types, these changes to DC’s codes are exciting. They are worthy of a city like Washington DC, which is a national leader in green building codes. Change can be hard, and the increasing challenge to hit net zero energy and carbon is going to demand a nimble and creative approach to building design. I’m excited to support our clients as they test their skills and aim for new benchmarks in energy and carbon performance.

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