According to ASHRAE, when it comes to energy, the residential sector consumes a fifth of all the primary energy used by the United States and more than half of all energy used by buildings.

Similar trends are also observed in other parts of the world. For example, in Europe, residential buildings account for 75% of the total building stock and are responsible for 26.2% of the total European Union final energy consumption in 2012.

ASHRAE believes these numbers present big opportunities for sustainability. From economic, environmental, and energy security perspectives, a sector responsible for this much energy consumption requires significant attention, notes Tom Phoenix, ASHRAE president.

Just as importantly, because people typically spend nearly 90% of their  time indoors and most of that time is in the home, the indoor environments of residential buildings have a very significant impact on health, productivity, and comfort. Household air pollution from indoor combustion for cooking and heating is estimated by the World Health Organization to result in over 4 million deaths annually worldwide — nearly 8% of the total, predominantly in developing economies.

As such, ASHRAE is exploring its role in residential, looking at how it can contribute most effectively to the improvement of the performance of residential buildings. The society recently released a report, “ASHRAE and the Residential Construction Market,” which contains a series of recommendations to the board of directors.

“Our members do work on buildings all day and then go home, failing to effectively bring the best of ASHRAE home with us to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality,” Phoenix said.

Max Sherman, chair pf the Presidential Ad Hoc Committee on the Residential Construction Market, noted that one of the first questions the group explored was “what is residential.”

He said that in the United States, residential is often associated with low-rise, single-family houses. This association is evident in the division in scopes between the International Residential Code and the International Building Code and between the scopes of ASHRAE standards related to indoor air quality and energy. Additionally, mid-rise multifamily construction often seems to fall through the cracks and is not adequately addressed in either current residential or nonresidential standards, he said.

Sherman also said the exploration into residential began under the guidance of 2013-14 ASHRAE President Bill Bahnfleth. The committee looked at the importance of the residential sector, what ASHRAE is already doing in the residential sector, and how ASHRAE’s role is viewed in the residential market. As part of that, a workshop for key stakeholders was held earlier in the year.

Sherman found that their research showed the residential sector is of growing importance.

Studies show there were over 115 million dwellings in the United States (217 million in the European Union) in 2010. The projection is that by 2030 this number will grow to about 141 million in the United States (241 million in the European Union). Given that number is increasing, efficiency needs to increase as well. ASHRAE officials say they can play a significant role in the efforts to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact of the global building stock.

“Over 74% of all existing homes in the United States were constructed before 1989 — before widespread adoption of model energy codes governing their construction,” Sherman said. “More than 40% of the European residential buildings have been constructed before the 1960s when energy building regulations were very limited. By almost any measure, most of these homes are likely under-insulated, have poorly performing fenestration, have significant envelope air leakage, need upgrades to all HVACR components and delivery systems, and contain outdated and inefficient lighting systems when compared to today’s basic energy code minimums. In addition, we need to treat these homes as systems that provide good indoor environmental quality for people. These needs define significant opportunity for energy, carbon, peak power, and water savings within the residential sector.”

Sherman said the group found that while ASHRAE has extensive and perhaps unmatched technical abilities in the residential area, it is far from the dominant player. He notes the society’s involvement requires not only focusing the efforts of its own volunteers but collaborating with existing stakeholders.

The report contains several recommendations to the ASHRAE board of directors. Several recommendations have already been acted upon and the rest have been referred to appropriate bodies in the society. The report and additional information can be found at

The recommendations are designed to raise the priority of residential activity within the society by increasing visibility of existing work in that area and by providing additional society resources for future work. ASHRAE will support residential through actions in the report, including the likely formation of a new standing committee. It also plans to involve more residential stakeholders and include more residential content in its research, programs, standards, and publications.

Phoenix said that the move into residential also is part of the society’s newly adopted Strategic Plan under an initiative that addresses ASHRAE’s role in the residential sector. The plan notes that ASHRAE will create partnerships and collaboration with key organizations in the residential sector.

“Together we look forward to working with new partners to develop technology, perform research, and educate owners, builders, and designers to improve the residential built environment,” he said.