Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

New Ithaca Energy Code Makes History!

Ithaca Town Hall. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Kenneth Zirkel

Dan Antonioli

On May 5, 2021, the city government of Ithaca, NY made green building history by passing an ordinance requiring all new buildings to be energy-efficient above and beyond the NY State Energy Conservation Construction Code – 40% or more efficient, to be exact. Also known as the “Green Building Policy,” the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement (IECS) is an overlay to the state energy code that increases the energy efficiency of buildings and effectively reduces the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they cause. With climate change wreaking havoc on the planet, Ithaca seized the opportunity to do something about it with the development of a built environment that aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. This is good news!

As of August 4, 2021, the IECS is the new energy standard and all new construction and major renovations have to comply with it. By 2023 the required reduction in GHG emission ratio will go up to 80%, and by 2026 the benchmark will be net-zero with no fossil fuels used for heating buildings.

The larger goal is to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030, and since the built environment contributes globally to 39% of GHGs, it will have to be part and parcel of a net zero, carbon neutral economy. The energy code supplement thus contributes substantially to Ithaca’s Green New Deal agenda. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick proclaimed that the passage of this ordinance is “history-making.”


To achieve code compliance, the IECS offers two pathways: the Easy Path, which is a customized points-based system, or the Whole Building Path, which is a performance-based system. When you pull a permit for a new building, addition, or major renovation, the permit application will now come with a checklist and set of guidelines demonstrating how that building will meet the new energy standards. The application submittal will be just like any other permit application, with the addition of calculations and measures to achieve the higher GHG-reducing standard.

On the list are: electrification of buildings, heat pumps for space heating and domestic hot water, efficient lighting, proper scaling and design of buildings, renewable energy (both on and off-site), efficient window-to-wall ratios, and additional measures such as walkability, EV charging stations, and adaptive reuse. The Easy Path system will award points for each measure, and the Whole Building Path will certify compliance based on measurable performance of the green improvements noted above and/or voluntary adoption of several third-party green rating systems, such as LEED and Passive House.

On June 14, 2021, the Town of Ithaca (the larger geographical jurisdiction of Ithaca and a joint collaborator of the IECS) followed suit and passed a nearly identical Energy Code Supplement. Building sustainability in this neck of the woods is thus now the law. Moving forward, every new building is a step in the direction of a sustainable future where the built environment reduces greenhouse gases, is energy-efficient, and affordable.


The IECS has been and will continue to be a community collaboration of the Ithaca Sustainability Coordinator, Director of Sustainability, Planning and Building Department, Mayor’s Office, and a host of local green building professionals. Ithaca is a progressive community with a commitment to a socially just and sustainable future, and the vision of a carbon neutral economy is a strong cultural value. When cities and towns across the globe demonstrate leadership in sustainability and social justice, it encourages other places to follow suit. Ithaca is truly a leader in manifesting a green future by showing how to turn vision into reality.


Hot off the press, the IECS is in a transition and training period where the state code standards move into the new Ithaca energy code supplements. Construction is where the community collaborative effort is poised to help projects meet the new standards and stay within budget. And as they saying goes, one step at a time, and by 2026 Ithaca will have some of the highest green building standards in the country.


What are codes and why are they important? The next time you drive through a city or suburbia just imagine if the buildings were all green-certified and net-zero energy. Why aren’t we building the world green? While there are many answers to this question, energy codes largely determine what standard of sustainability will be achieved, or not achieved, and that’s why codes are important.

In principle, codes protect public health and safety. Earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods (to name a few) wreak havoc on the built environment, so codes are enforced to protect buildings and their inhabitants.

When we move into energy codes, we’re in the domain of saving energy, protecting the environment, and now combating climate change.

We will quote green building pioneer David Eisenberg. “Building codes are based on a societal decision that it is important to protect the health and safety of people from the built environment. If, inadvertently, these codes actually jeopardize everyone’s health and safety by ignoring their impacts on the environment, resulting in the destruction of the ecosystems that sustain us all, then we are obligated to reinvent the codes from that larger perspective. Certainly, it cannot be more important to protect individuals in specific buildings than to protect all of us and all future generations on this specific planet.”

The IECS represents what’s possible in our code infrastructure and distinguishes the codes as a means to a sustainable future. Let’s do this everywhere!

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Dan Antonioli is a green developer, licensed general building contractor, and permaculture designer based in Ithaca, NY. His company, Going Green, is available to assist in a wide variety of green building projects. Visit

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