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How do Standards and Codes work?

Building codes were developed after world war II to help improve building safety during the construction boom. They have evolved from focusing on life safety (fire and structural) to plumbing, energy and indoor environmental quality (IEQ). To receive a building permit, the building design must meet certain minimum criteria called out in the building code. Often there is a code for residential construction and one for commercial construction. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is responsible to enforce the building code.  They are often known as the building or plans department.

To develop a complete residential and commercial building code is a significant amount of work so organizations such as International Code Council (ICC) (www.iccsafe.org), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) (www.iapmo.org) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) (www.nfpa.org) offer complete sets of model codes for jurisdictions to use.  The local jurisdictions can use all or part of the model code and may choose to make modifications based on local needs. Large jurisdictions such as New York City, Chicago and San Francisco have significantly modified building codes particularly around fire safety. What is legally enforceable is what the AHJ requires.

The ICC is the most commonly used model building code in the USA. A new version is released every three years based on input from code officials and updates from Standards writing organizations. This three year cycle drives the timing of updates from other Standards.


Standards writing organizations such as ASHRAE (www.ashrae.org) develop “building blocks” that are incorporated into the model building codes. The enforceability of a Standard occurs when a standard is referenced in the model building code and then adopted by the AHJ.

A Standard uses enforceable language such as “shall” or “must”. Language such  as “could” or “should” is not allowed.  Standards are also consensus based meaning that all directly and materially affected parties agree on the content. They go through a public review process.

The most common way to know if a Standard has met these requirements is for it to be American National Standards Institute (ANSI) (www.ANSI.org) certified. A standard that is ANSI certified has a much better chance of being adopted in a model building code. ASHRAE is one of a handful of organizations that can self-certify ANSI standards based on quality of work they do.

Performance vs. Prescriptive Standards

Standards tend to follow either (or both) a performance or prescriptive path. A performance based standard would establish a clear goal or outcome. For example, “minimum annual energy use in this type of building and this specific climate zone shall not exceed 65,000 Btu/ft²-yr”. This style of standard is common outside of North America. It offers the design team the most amount of freedom to achieve the goal but is harder for a code official to recognize and enforce. Most agree that to drive high performance goals, performance based standards must be used so many standards are evolving in this direction.

A prescriptive standard has recipe of actions that must be done. In the development of the standard, the developing body agrees that if a certain set of actions are taken (a recipe), the goal will (generally) be achieved. For example, “ a minimum of 15 cfm ventilation air shall be delivered to the space in order to achieve acceptable indoor air quality”. This approach is clearly defined and easily validated however, there is no guarantee that 15 cfm will deliver acceptable IAQ (i.e what if the ventilation air has pollutants?). Standards such as ASHRAE Standard 62.1 and 90.1 have both performance and prescriptive compliance paths.

Continuous Maintenance

Many of ASHRAE’s key standards follow a process known as Continuous Maintenance. This means the Standards development committee stays active all the time and makes changes to the standard between publications as addenda. These addenda are then added to the next full publication. The moment the addenda are approved, they become part of the Standard.

Energy Standards

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Cover ASHRAE-90.1 -2019

Source – www.ASHRAE.org

ASHRAE Standard 90.1 – Energy Standard for Buildings except Low-Rise Residential Buildings sets minimum energy performance for commercial buildings in the United States. It also influences energy standards in many other countries who mimic it. It is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance with a new version issued in alignment with the 3 year ICC  model code cycle (The current version is 2019).

It was developed in the 1970s (oil embargo) at the request of the US Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE reviews each new version and when they approve it, require all jurisdictions the USA to meet the performance of the new version in the codes within 2 years.


Current Compliance With ASHAE Standard 90.1 in the USA

Standard 90.1 has both prescriptive and performance (Energy Cost Budget (ECB)) compliance paths.  It defines building envelope, lighting and HVAC requirements.  For HVAC, there are extensive equipment performance and system design performance requirements.

dcv example

Standard 90.1 Example for Demand Control Ventilation


Source – www.NRC.org

2015 National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) is a model building code developed by NRC for the federal government.  Its adoption is controlled by the provinces.  It sets minimum energy performance for commercial buildings.  It closely follows ASHRAE Standard 90.1 but includes details for Canada’s colder climate.

The energy code in affect within a province can be found at www.nrcan.ca.

Source – https://energystepcode.ca

The British Columbia (BC) Step Code is an optional compliance to the BC Building Code that local governments (AHJ) can adopt.  Whereas the building codes is prescriptive, the step code is performance based.  It covers both residential and commercial construction and sets performance levels (steps) with the highest levels set at net zero energy ready.


BC Step Code Requirements for Climate Zone 4

The figure shows the performance requirements for the 5 levels.  Level 5 is zero energy ready and Passive House equivalent.  Many jurisdictions are implementing the step code.  Details by location can be found at energystepcode.ca.

phi logo

Passive House is a high-performance, voluntary energy standard that originated at the Passive House Institute (PHI) in Germany based on technology developed in Canada in the 1970s. “Passive House is a building standard that is truly energy efficient, comfortable and affordable at the same time.” (source: Passive House Institute). In North America, PHI project certification, concept training and education is provided by The Passive House Network and Passive House Canada.

Air handling units with heat recovery is one of the 5 basic principles of the Passive House standard. Swegon offers air handling units that are third-party tested by PHI to meet their rigorous heat recovery, electrical consumption and leakage requirements.

Phius is a path to a zero-carbon built environment, certifying passive house projects in North America. Phius trains and certifies professionals, maintains and updates the Phius climate-specific passive building standard, and certifies passive buildings.

Air handling units with heat recovery are one of the 5 basic principles of the Phius standard. Swegon offers air handling units that are third-party tested by PHI to meet their rigorous heat recovery, electrical consumption and leakage requirements.

Source – www.PHIUS.org

IAQ and IEQ Standards

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Source – www.ASHRAE.org

Standard 62.1 – Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality sets minimum ventilation rates to achieve acceptable IAQ for commercial buildings (There is ASHRAE Standard 62.2 for residential buildings and ASHRAE Standard 170 for Healthcare).  It is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance with a new version issued in alignment with the 3 year ICC  model code cycle (next full version is due in 2019).

Standard 62.1 has both prescriptive and performance compliance paths.  The prescriptive path has minimum ventilation rates by space use based on floor area and occupancy.  The two values are added together to get the minimum ventilation rate.  There are provisions in Standard 62.1 that allows reduced airflow for demand control ventilation.  There are also requirements for mixing efficiency and multizone HVAC systems that affect the ventilation rates.   Standard 62.1 covers minimum filtration requirements, coil accessibility and drain pan design for air handling units.  This Standard is considered the minimum duty of care for IAQ and is widely used.

ventilation rate

ASHRAE Standard 62.1 Example

Cover ASHRAE-170-2017

Source – www.ASHRAE.org

Standard 170 – Ventilation of Healthcare Facilities [link to Healthcare solutions] covers ventilation requirements for hospitals, nursing facilities and outpatient facilities.  It is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance.  The standard includes air change rates including recirculating and outdoor air as well as filtration requirements for various spaces found in healthcare.

Page 9 from ASHRAE-170-2017

Standard 170 Air change Rates Table


Source – www.ASHRAE.org

Standard 55 2017– Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy define criteria for thermal comfort.  It is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance.  It is most well known for indicating acceptable temperature and humidity. For built environments.  The Standard actually has 5 criteria that must be met in order to achieve acceptable indoor thermal comfort; temperature, humidity, drafting, clothing level and mean radiant temperature.


Standard 55 Thermal Graphic Comfort Zone

well building standard

Source – www.wellcertified.com

Well v1 and v2 Building Standards are certification programs that evaluate wellness in the built environment. They are developed by the International Well Building Institute. The Standard uses a points system where the more points scored, the higher the rating (Silver, Gold and Platinum). It considers Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community. The Well standard covers multifamily residential, education, retail and restaurants for both new construction and existing buildings. There are also accreditation programs for professionals.

Safety Standards

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cover ashrae designation safety

Source – www.ASHRAE.org

Standard 34 – Designation and Safety Classification of Refrigerants classifies refrigerants by toxicity and flammability.  Refrigerants such as R-134a and R-410A are listed as A1 refrigerants.  It is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance with a new version issued in alignment with the 3 year ICC  model code cycle (next full version is due in 2019).

standard34 saftey classification

Figure 9 – Standard 34 Safety Classifications


Source – www.ASHRAE.org and www.csagroup.org

Standard 34 – Safety Standard for Refrigeration Systems and CAS B52-18 – Mechanical Code Refrigeration set out the necessary safety steps for refrigeration systems based on refrigerant type, amount of refrigerant and location.    The ASHRAE standard is used in the USA and CAS B52 is used in Canada.  The two organizations work together so the two documents are closely aligned.   The standards cover mechanical room separation, ventilation requirements, refrigerant leak monitoring etc.   Standard 15 is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance with a new version issued in alignment with the 3 year ICC  model code cycle (next full version is due in 2019).  Standard B52 was issued in 2018.

Zero Carbon Standards

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zero carbon building standard

Source – www.cagbc.org

Zero Carbon Building Standard was developed by Canadian Green Building Council and release in May 2017.  The Design version is based on modeling a zero carbon balance, high efficiency building envelope and ventilation system to meet thermal energy demand intensity, and onsite renewable energy systems that meet at least 5% of building energy consumption.  As well, determine the embodied green house gas (GHG) emissions associated with the building envelop materials.

zero carbon building standard requirements

Zero Carbon Building Standard Requirements

zero code

Source – https://architecture2030.org

Zerocode by Architecture 2030 is a prescriptive and performance energy standard for commercial buildings.  It leverages existing standards such as ASHRAE 90.1 and 189.1 to establish a baseline.  Then using Zerocode Energy Calculator the required on and/or offsite renewable energy requirement is estimated to achieve net zero carbon building design.

zero code


Sustainability Standards and certification

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Source – www.ASHRAE.org

ASHRAE Standard 189.1 – Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings defines minimum criteria for a building to be considered a high performance green building.  ASHRAE and ICC have merged Standard 189.1 with the ICC International Green Construction Code (IgCC) into one document with the core technology coming from AHSRAE.  It is ANSI certified and on continuous maintenance.

Standard 189.1 covers site use, water management, energy, indoor environmental quality, building impact on environment and construction and operation plans with both prescriptive and performance based paths.  The energy requirements are closely aligned with Standard 90.1 usually just requiring a higher level of performance (e.g. 60% energy recovery performance in air to air heat exchangers vs. 50% for Standard 90.1).  Whereas Standard 189.1 can be used by a AHJ to show a building is high performance, programs such as LEED are used to rank (Platinum, Gold, Silver etc.)  high performance buildings.


Source – https://living-future.org

Living Building Challenge is a sustainability certification program for high performance buildings.   It covers site, water, energy, health and happiness (wellness) materials, equity and beauty.  It uses pedals to indicate the performance level.


Living Building Challenge Certifications


Source – www.usgbc.org

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by US Green Building Council (USBGC) is a sustainability program that covers site, energy, water, IEQ and materials selection.  In Canada, the LEED program is managed by CaGBC.  Ther are accreditation programs for professionals as well.

There are programs for new construction and retrofits.  The program uses a series of points awarded in the various areas (energy, water IEQ etc.)  for designing above  minimum compliance.  The award level is based on the number of points gained.  The LEED program now has 10 rating systems and has expanded in to residential Cities and Communities.


Source www.greenglobes.com

Green Globes Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings is managed in North America by Green Building Initiative (GBI).  Green Globes originated from Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREAM) developed in the United Kingdom.  It is a sustainability  program similar to LEED covering new construction and retrofits.  It is ANSI certified.  The program gives Globes based on the number of points scored.


Product Standards and Certifications

Since chilled beams were originally developed in Europe, many products including Swegon use the European certification program.  More recently AHRI and ASHRAE developed a certification program.  Occasionally, other certification programs not intended for chilled beams are applied to chilled beam products.

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swegon test lab cb

Product performance test standards provide an industry agreed to method for manufacturers to test their equipment to common set of operating conditions and test methodology.  The performance data that comes from the testing allows a user to compare various manufacturers at the prescribed operating conditions.  These conditions may or may not match the requirements of the actual project.

The goal of a product standard is not to set minimum compliance, only to make sure that what is published is accurate.  An extreme example would be a product with very poor performance could still be tested and certified.  The performance data would be dismal but accurate.  It is the role of performance standards like ASHRAE Std 90.1 to set minimum acceptable performance levels.

Going beyond the Standard is certification.  A manufacturer who tests in accordance with the Standard is self testing but following the Standard’s requirements.  A certified product has third party verification that the product test data is correct.  A manufacturer in a certification program has agreed to submit their product to the certifying body (e.g. AHRI or Eurovent)  typically on an annual basis and have it tested.  The test results are compared with the published data to ensure the product meets the manufacturer’s claims.

swegon ahu test facility kvanum

Depending on the standard, a single operating condition may be specified or an operating range.  For a single point test format, the product is certified at the test conditions described in the Standard regardless of how it is actually used in a specific project.  The argument is if the product was taken out of the building back to a lab and tested it at the conditions specified in the Standard, the performance would match the certified data.

A product tested in Standard with an operating range may or may not be certified even though it is exactly the same product.   As long as the project specific operating conditions fall within the Standard’s operating range the product can be certified.  If the project specific requirements are outside of the Standard’s operation range the product cannot be certified for those conditions but can be tested in accordance with the standard.  A common example are coils in the AHRI 410 coil certification program.  At certain project specific operating conditions, the product can no longer be certified, just rated in accordance with the program even though it is exactly the same product.

Chilled Beam Standards and Certifications

Since chilled beams were originally developed in Europe, many products including Swegon use the European certification program.  More recently AHRI and ASHRAE developed a certification program.  Occasionally, other certification programs not intended for chilled beams are applied to chilled beam products.

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EN15116 Ventilation in Buildings – Chilled Beams is the Eurovent test standard for active chilled beams.  EN 14518 is the Eurovent test standard for Passive Chilled Beams.  When a chilled beam is tested to EN 15116 or 14518 and certified by Eurovent, the Eurovent logo will appear on the product performance data sheet. www.eurovent-certification.com

Swegon Performance Data Sheet for Chilled Bema showing Eurovent Certification

swegon example perf datasheet

Nordtest NT VVS 078 test method covers the test arrangement and procedure for measuring the cooling capacity of ceiling systems without forced airflow.  This can be radiant cooling and passive chilled beams. www.nordtest.info


AHRI 1240 (IP) and 1241 (SI) Active Chilled Beams are performance rating standards for active chilled beams.  The standard was launched in 2015.  Some manufacturers are testing  in accordance with the Standard, however, to date, no one has certified within the program.  www.ahri.org

ahri air cooling

AHRI 410 Forced Circulation Air-Heating and Air-Cooling Coils is a coil certification program for coils used in air handling units and ducted systems.  It is not really intended to cover coil performance for coils used in chilled beams  any more than it is intended to cover coils used in fancoils.

Applying AHRI 410 to chilled beams can lead to misunderstandings.  The actual coil performance when used in a chilled beam will not match the AHRI test data because the chilled beam application is very different than the AHRI 410 test arrangement.  Consider the difference between how a coil is applied in an air handling unit and how it is applied in a chilled beam.   Assuming, the manufacturer tests and publishes performance data for coil as it performance in the chilled beam, the data will not match the AHRI 410 test data for that coil.  Worse, if the chilled beam manufacturer relies on test data developed using AHRI 410 to publish performance for the chilled beam, the data will not be accurate.

AHRI developed AHRI 440 for fancoils to accurately represent the coil and fan performance as a complete product.  For chilled beams it is recommend that chilled beam specific standards such as Eurovent 15116 and 14518 or AHRI 1240/1241 be used.

ul1995 logo

UL 1995 Safety Standard

UL 1995 is  product safety standard for heating and cooling equipment that is harmonized for Canada and the USA. It covers a broad range of HVAC products including air handling units and chilled beams. Many safety testing organizations include Intek can test and certify a product to meet UL 1995.

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