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Energy-efficient Buildings

Should intelligent selfishness be mandatory?

Illinois Issues

June 1981

Too much of the debate about energy in the 1980s was about how to increase its supply so that Americans, including Illinoisans, could continue to be stupid about how they used it. A more important secondary debate was about whether and how to use the energy we have more efficiently in, say, transportation and building, which in effect would create new supplies.

The article was part of the magazine's multi-author series on Illinois energy issues.  I wrote five of them altogether—this one on energy-efficient buildings, on government's role in transportation, on synfuels, on ethanol, and a big-picture introduction. For the others, see "Illinois Issues energy series" here.

Illinois Issues introduction: Energy is no longer cheaper than insulation. That fact is changing the buildings we build and the houses we live in. But although almost everyone agrees that buildings must use less energy, there is no guarantee the marketplace alone can do the job and no consensus that the government can or should play a part. Federal and statewide building codes requiring energy efficiency have been proposed, and there has been spotty action with local codes.

* * *

When Neanderthals first lit a fire in the mouth of a cave to warm the chill night air, they invented space heating. They also complicated their economy because, from that point forward, humans have needed to supply themselves not only with food and furs but with fuel for that fire.

Heating, lighting and (more recently) cooling homes, offices and factories consumes much of the nation's energy budget. And of the state's. In 1978 houses and apartments in Illinois used some 628 trillion Btu of natural gas and electricity. This was nearly nine percent of the energy consumed by the entire nation in 1978 and about 41 percent of the energy consumed in Illinois. Of that 628 trillion Btu, about 60 percent was used for space heating alone.

How—and how well—our buildings use energy, therefore, is important. Most of our buildings were built in the pre-OPEC era, when energy was cheaper than insulation. Making those buildings energy efficient requires retrofitting, a cumbersome and expensive process with energy benefits that are real enough (as high as 30 percent by some estimates) but hard won.

What about buildings being built today? Inefficient buildings are not as easy as cars to trade in. A wasteful building built today will go on wasting for a long time. In 1975, a model building code was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and   Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) setting forth minimal thermal efficiency standards for buildings.


The Illinois Institute of Natural Resources (IINR), the state's energy agency, calculates that, if all the state's new houses and stores were to be built according to this ASHRAE 90-75 code, annual building energy consumption could be shaved by 15 percent. Measured in 1980 dollars, such economies would save the state's homeowners, renters and businesses $10 million a year. "And," stresses Frank Beal, IINR director, "those savings are cumulative. The second year, with two years' worth of new building they would add up to $20 million. In three years, $30 million, and so on. The citizens of Illinois are now paying good money to heat the outdoors. It just makes no sense to continue to build buildings that are energy inefficient."

Energy inefficiency is making deep dents in public budgets too. Taxpayers have to heat and cool schools, offices and hospitals; in fiscal year 1979, the utility bill for the state's colleges and universities alone came to more than $48 million. And the federal Department of Energy (DOE) will spend $32 million in Illinois in 1980 and 1981 in grants to finance weatherization of low-income homes, $11 million less than that for which local agencies had requests.

Predictably, those sectors of the state's economy most sensitive to building energy costs have taken the lead in finding ways to reduce them: businesses on the margin of the economy, others which operate on thin margins (including, increasingly, governments), and those which use large amounts of energy. It is not just the Illinois farmer's spirit of innovation that explains why most of the working solar space heaters in Illinois are attached to pig barns and grain dryers.

Chicago's Sears, Roebuck and Company spent $121 million for energy in 1979, even after stringent conservation programs had saved $37 million. Its new stores (such as the Vernon Hills store in suburban Lake County which Sears has used as its national energy testing site since 1978) are being designed with lower ceilings, vestibules, enclosed loading areas, fewer windows and other energy saving features.

Illinois architects, builders and energy officials also agree that the new energy economics have led to improvements in the construction of houses and apartment buildings. Rudard Jones of the University of Illinois's Small Homes Council thinks that most of the houses now being built in Illinois are close to the ASHRAE 90-75 standard. Jack Lageschulte, a Chicago-area builder who is the president of the Home Builders Association of Illinois, agrees. "Across the state, builders have responded by thinking more about energy," he says, "for example, by placing the garage on the north side of a house, or adding more insulation and caulking."

Credit for these changes may be given almost entirely to the invisible guiding hand of the marketplace on architects, businesspeople and builders. But the marketplace drives a hard bargain. Building on a budget usually means building to a minimum salable standard; yet people usually compute the cost of a new home on the basis of its purchase price rather than its lifecy-cle operating costs. Conservation features which push up the purchase price make it harder to sell the house. When 40,000 members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) met in Las Vegas recently, the talk was about how to reduce the soaring purchase cost of housing, a problem caused by inflation and high mortgage interest rates and complicated (according to the NAHB past president) by local building regulations—including, presumably, energy regulations.

The marketplace

Another problem of the marketplace is that energy costs for buildings fall unevenly on the citizenry with the result that energy "costs" are not the same for everyone. The homeowner has relatively few choices when confronted by high heating bills: Buy storm windows if she can afford them, buy a sweater if she cannot, or, move to Florida.

In at least one state, energy efficiency is required as a condition of utility service. In 1979, the IINR was urging the Illinois Commerce Commission (I1CC) to require that new buildings meet the ASHRAE 90-75 standards as a condition for utility service. (The proposal was never formally made, and I1CC member Charles Stalon says, "As far as I know, we have no authority whatsoever to establish building codes as a condition of utility service.")

Renters' energy decisions are made for them by their landlords, who have little incentive to build efficiently as long as tenants continue to pay rents that escalate with utility bills. Single-metering of new buildings helps, but in a leaky building it merely means that tenants have the option of freezing to save money or keeping warm at their own expense instead of their landlord's.

The same holds true for commercial tenants, although in their case, they are often more willing victims. In Chicago's Loop, the goal of builders is to exploit the maximum square footage of real estate for the minimum cost; the cost of land, not energy, is the motivator. That kind of developmental economics does not place a premium on lifecycle operating costs but rather fosters energy-use escalation, the cost of which is passed to tenants who, in turn, pass it along to their customers. Many institutions are similarly insulated from the costs of energy. Hospitals are an obvious example; their energy costs are not paid by their "customers" directly but are paid by a third party—insurance firms.

Retail firms also pass on energy costs to their customers. Such moves exact less penalty in the marketplace in inflationary eras when price rises are routine; businesses, in effect, pay no energy costs at all, and thus have no incentive to lower them. The federal tax systems even provides a subsidy of sorts for energy waste since it allows firms to write off energy costs against incomes as an operating expense; they thus are shielded from the full impact of such costs, leaving taxpayers to underwrite energy inefficiency.

The tax code is similarly ambivalent about energy saving in new homes. Most recent Internal Revenue Service guidelines establish that key elements in passive solar heating systems (such as ventilating fans and water tanks used as heat reservoirs) qualify for tax credits. But not every such element qualifies. Those that serve a dual purpose (such as a trombe wall, which is a structural member of a house as well as a heat collector) do not qualify. Similarly, ordinary wall insulation qualifies, but insulation attached to exterior siding does not.

Builders and buyers

Indeed, most factors in the decision to build a house or office—like how it will look, of what it will be built, where it will stand and how it will be equipped—have little to do with saving energy. There is simple ignorance by builders and buyers about the costs and cures of inefficiency.

Lack of information on the part of builders is particularly lamentable because they are so important to energy efficiency (and energy efficiency is so important to them). Speaking in Springfield in March, Denis Hayes, director of Illinois's pioneer Division of Energy in the mid-1970s who now runs DOE's Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in Colorado, described a SERI housing project in Denver. Hayes noted that most conservation programs have been aimed at consumers, even though well over 190 percent of the new houses are not designed by their eventual buyers but are built speculatively. With funding from SERI, Denver home contractors were given the money they needed to have architects of their choice take their standard home designs and redesign them for energy efficiency. The changes added 3-5 percent to the construction cost.But the amended homes used one-fifth the energy used by the average new home in Colorado. A simple idea, says Hayes, but, "We worked a revolution with it."

Local governments, like builders, are not opposed to energy conservation as an end, only to compulsory bureaucratic controls as the means. They prefer to rely on the public's judgment. The problem is that the typical home buyer or businessperson rarely knows what an energy-efficient building ought to include. This lack of information, coupled with the costs of building efficiency into a building and the costs of not building it in, makes energy building codes as much a consumer protection tool as a conservation tool.

It is still commonplace for designers to install larger-than-required heating and cooling systems, for example. "Efficiency" can be just as expensive as inefficiency, says the Home Builders' Lageschulte. "Some of the so-called energy-saving products have enormously long payback periods. It's common for an insulation manufacturer to claim that you will save 'X' dollars a year with his product—while in the fine print it says, lIf you have a 12,000 square foot house in Nome, Alaska."

Another impediment to change is fashion. In 1975, the University of Illinois's Small Homes Council published a design for what it called a "Lo-Cal" house featuring double-thick walls, south-facing windows and roof overhangs. But the design has not proved popular, in large part because the house, with its extra wide window sills and compact shape, neither looks like nor is built like a "normal" house. Resistance to new design is breaking down, but very slowly—a minor point were it not for the connection between fashion and finance. Many bankers still refuse to loan money to finance an unconventional building, even when its design is probably more efficient, because they worry that it might be harder to resell in case of default.

Mortgages and utility bills

On the subject of financing, IINR Director Frank Beal, points out, "The banking industry could condition loans to both builders and buyers of a building, because an energy-efficient building is less of a risk to the banks if the buyer doesn't have to choose between paying the utility bill and paying the mortgage." Something like this is being done in Portland, Ore., where, beginning in 1984, it will be illegal to sell or rent a building which has not been weatherized.

There are no Portlands in Illinois. But Warren Pursell of the Illinois Savings and Loan League (ISLL) says that something like Portland's approach is going on in Illinois anyway. "When a home buyer comes in, we ask them, 'Do you know what your fuel bills will be? How much insulation do you have?' Often, we find that the applicant hasn't thought about these questions, especially if he's never owned a home before." The ISLL offers seminars for member institutions on how to determine the energy efficiency of a building. "Our basic concerns in making a loan are payments of principal, interest and taxes," Pursell concludes. "With the costs of energy increasing as they are, we now consider energy almost a fourth factor."

If the marketplace has made a slow start in redesigning buildings, it may be because the costs of energy still aren't painful enough to compel efficiency. As Anthony Liberatore, the IINR's assistant director for policy and planning, explained recently to an audience at the University of Illinois's Eighth Annual Energy Conference in Chicago, commercial builders are profit-oriented, which means that the rate and level of payback on energy conservation designs must compete with other company investments. When interest rates are high, wasting energy still sometimes costs less than saving it.

Take the case of natural gas. I1CC commissioner Stalon notes, "Because of accidents of history, Illinois has under contract a lot of gas that reflects old prices. The last I heard, for example, Peoples Gas Co. [which serves parts of northern Illinois] was buying some of its gas from Canada at $5 per thousand cubic feet. But Peoples was also buying a lot of gas at 50 cents per thousand cubic feet, so that the average price to their customers is something like $2.50. That means that if the $5 price reflects the current marginal social cost of gas [the current replacement cost as determined by market demand], gas can be obtained in Illinois today at only half its real cost." This occurred, Stalon goes on to say, because "politicians just would not permit the market system to impose on the public the harsh choices caused by rising energy costs."

The role of government

Government cannot avoid those harsh choices, of course, only delay them. And price regulation is neither the first nor the only way in which government involves itself in the marketplace. The presence of government is especially pervasive in the building industry, where it takes the shape of building codes. The market determines what is feasible; government decides how it may be built, and by deciding how buildings may be built, helps determine what is feasible.

Building codes have been on the books of Illinois local governments for decades. They vary in complexity and enforcement. They are alike, however, in that each was an official response to failures of the unregulated marketplace to provide the buildings which people need, as opposed to those they can afford. Traditionally, this has meant buildings that are sanitary and relatively safe from fire. But hazards to public health and safety are no longer the only social ailments that can be prescribed for in building codes. Codes (along with complementary zoning and planning ordinances allowing more flexible lot use) can also mandate energy-efficient building practices and materials.

This is a new role for building codes, and opinion is far from unanimous on whether it is an appropriate one, especially among local government officials. The federal government, however, has seldom been afraid to rush in where local governments fear to tread. The U.S. Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 (EPCA) required states to have the ASHRAE 90-75 standards in effect in all jurisdictions by Decembei 1979, as a condition of receipt of federal energy funds—a stick in the shape of a carrot.

Under federal pressure, Illinois has pushed to adopt statewide energy standards in building codes. The IINR offers training and technical assistance to local governments who wish to strengthen the energy provisions of their own local codes through the Community Energy Conservation Program administered by the Departm of Commerce and Community Affairs. Some 30 cities and counties have received technical assistance to date, and there have been many more inquiries. In addition, in 1978 the Capital Development Board (CDB) adopted the ASHRAE 90-75 code and made it applicable not only to new buildings done under CDB's aegis but to additions and major remodelings as well (see Capital Development Board, p. 16).

Statewide energy codes

But although the State of Illinois has a code for its own buildings, it lacks a statewide building code—and is not alone in this deficiency. Only 28 states have adopted some kind of statewide code, and of these only 15 have lived up to the EPCA requirement that such codes be mandatory in all jurisdictions. The federal carrot in this case is the states' share of federal energy program grants, which in Illinois currently add up to $2.3 million. But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) allows for deadline extensions for non-complying states, and Illinois has been operating under such extensions since December of 1979. Says Steve Thomas of IINR, "The chances are slim that DOE would revoke the grant as long as we continue to make a good faith effort to comply with the law."

That "good faith effort" so far has encompassed seven separate legislative initiatives by IINR. The agency submitted what it called the "Energy Conservation Construction Act" to the General Assembly in 1975; it died in study committee. Other bills have attempted to assign statewide building standard-setting authority variously to the CDB, the I1CC, the Department of Public Health or the former Department of Local Government Affairs. Each died.

It was not until 1979, when S.B. 983 was enacted (P.A. 81-0357), that the IINR won anything at all from the legislature, and that was a watered-down bill that does nothing more than authorize the IINR to provide technical assistance to municipalities who ask for it—and then only if federal money is used.

This year three legislative proposals dealing with the energy efficiency of buildings have been drafted by IINR and approved by the governor's office. The proposals which will be introduced in the General Assembly would: 1) permit non-home rule municipalities to prohibit or regulate structures or activities which interfere with solar access; 2) prohibit covenants restricting solar use from being added to a deed or contract of sale of a building; and 3) make energy efficiency one of the subjects architects must be tested on in their state exams for certification.

More controversial is any legislation that smacks of a statewide building code. Architects generally support the idea of a statewide code. Builders, in contrast, are unenthusiastic. As Jack Lageschulte says, "I can't imagine anything less efficient than having a state code."

But the stubbornest defense against a statewide code is being mounted by Illinois's local governments. As Tom Fitzsimmons of the Illinois Municipal League (IML) explains, "We are opposed to any statewide building code because we don't want the state telling us what to do. We get to much super-government intervention as it is." The IML's opposition has more to it than jealous regard for local prerogatives. Administering such programs, particularly in areas where no building code presently exists, would be expensive.

That is probably why the Bureau of the Budget (BOB) recently squelched an admittedly modest proposal by IINR to require municipalities which already have building codes to incorporate thermal and lighting efficiency standards. In doing so, the IINR politely suggested, they may "consider" ASHRAE standards as a model. The IML has opposed that type of proposal, and the BOB ruled there is no federal mandate for such a bill and that it would come under the State's Mandates Act (P.A. 81-1115) which requires, as of January 1981, that any local government program mandated by the state be paid for by the state. Building code legislation may still be introduced, of course, but probably not under the aegis of the IINR and the governor. Meanwhile, Rep. Jack D. Davis (R., Beecher) has introduced a more modest proposal, H.R. 18, which would form a statewide building code committee to look at all aspects of building codes.

Besides expense, there are also worries that a state standard would prove inflexible, or irrelevant. Or that such a code might soon be superseded by a new federal standard such as DOE's proposed Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) which have been argued about since 1976 (see Building Energy Performance Standards, p. 18).

In the absence of a statewide building code, local units are left to adopt model codes or to devise their own codes. Few have done so. Of Illinois's more than 1,300 counties, cities, towns and villages, fewer than half are thought to have building codes; of these, state energy officials estimate that only about 10 percent explicitly address energy conservation.

Most of the municipalities are in urbanized northeastern Illinois. A 1980 study by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) of 189 communities in the six-county Chicago area revealed that nearly 65 percent of them used one of the several published model building codes to regulate construction of all or most buildings. In the NIPC survey, the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) code was most commonly used.


Energy provisions added in 1978 made it equal to the ASHRAE 90-75 code in all important respects. "Thus," concludes NIPC, "municipalities that have adopted the 1978 Code theoretically have adopted an energy code." NIPC estimates the number of such towns to be 37. But NIPC also points out that several towns which use the 1978 BOCA code don't use—or have specifically exempted—its energy provisions.

Local energy codes

A few towns in Illinois have adopted their own energy codes. NIPC found 14 in the collar counties, and there are perhaps that many more downstate. One of the more ambitious is found in Carbondale. The city has adopted the ASHRAE 90-75 code, with minor modifications, for its new commercial buildings. It drafted its own residential code, however, which stresses passive solar design. For example, it limits glazing on all walls except those facing south, where unlimited glazing is allowed // it is protected by a roof overhang.

A similar approach was embodied in the so-called Champaign Code. The push for this code began in the fall of 1977 when a Code Review Committee of the IINR began drafting a modified version of the ASHRAE 90-75 code for use in Illinois. The final version of this code was adopted, with further revisions, by the City of Champaign in the spring of 1978, at the urging of IINR.

The Champaign Code goes beyond ASHRAE in one crucial area. It bases the maximum percentages of single-glazed window area allowed in outside walls on the thickness of the insulation in those walls—the more insulation, the more window space. The code also provides that a house's window area can be doubled if the windows are double-glazed or protected by an appropriate roof overhang. The code is, in effect, an incentive for passive solar design. But the Champaign Code was not adopted by any other municipality, in spite of the IINR's attempts to promote it.

Building codes aren't the only means by which local governments influence building design. Under present zoning ordinances, for example, houses are typically oriented to lot lines and streets rather than the sun. Builders who wish to orient buildings to expose as much of their flanks as possible to the southern sun often find they can't do this on small lots without violating yard setback requirements. J. Randle Shick, a Springfield attorney who specializes in such cases, has written about the problems faced by a suburban Washington, D.C., developer when he tried to build Lo-Cal houses on a 39-unit subdivision. In order to maximize solar effect, he had to obtain zoning variances for virtually all the 39 lots.

The NIPC survey did not find one municipality that had incorporated specific energy siting clauses into its subdivision and planning ordinances. The Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, however, has drafted a pioneering ordinance (subsequently adopted by the City of Springfield) that allows developers to deviate from the usual setback requirements if doing so enhances a structure's solar access. Such measures are being talked about in other Illinois cities, but so far they are seldom imitated.

Efficiency isn't just a matter of what to do; it is also a matter of how it is done. To cite just one of a hundred possible examples: a builder may choose to install R-30 insulation bats in a typical attic (R-value or resistance is the ability of a material to retard the flow of heat). But unless the roof line is modified, R-30 bats may be too thick to fit easily into the space near the eaves. Squeezing it to fit squeezes out air and reduces the bats' insulating value to R-19.

Even supporters of tougher codes agree that codes are no cure-all. Implementation is expensive, and inspectors in more than one city must simply take the word of architects and engineers that a commercial building meets all code requirements because they lack the staff to check it themselves.


Codes tend also to be inflexible and, because they are compromise documents, are seldom representative of best building practices. Curt Mavis, a builder from Rochester, whose firm specializes in energy-efficient homes, notes that the standards set forth in most standard codes are too lax. "In the South, summers are hot, but you're compensated by warm winters. In the North, you have the reverse—very high bills for heating in the winter but low cooling bills in the summer. Here in corn country you get it both ways."

Writing codes to minimum standards also risks reducing codes to irrelevance. Since 1973, virtually every one of the standard energy building codes has been outrun by events. By the time a new code is drafted, revised, approved and adopted, the building practices it purports to regulate already exceed its requirements. Energy efficiency is a process, not a project. The ASHRAE 90-75 code, for example, is itself being updated to account for stricter conservation standards and new technologies.

Code or marketplace? Government or the public? Money or mandate? The mechanics of Illinois's eventual conversion to efficiency are difficult to identify. The fate of a mandatory statewide code seems shaky, given the general lack of enthusiasm shown for it and the anti-regulatory biases of the new Reagan administration. Lacking a single statewide standard, compliance with what might be called "marketplace" codes is likely to remain spotty. But compliance with existing building codes is uneven too, not just from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but within jurisdictions.

Slow changes

Uniformity of compliance, in short, is probably a pipe dream no matter how it is done. As for building practices, they will continue to change. As energy costs increase, construction techniques now dismissed as too expensive such as the double outside walls of the Lo-Cal house will become more affordable. People will change the way they build homes just as high interest rates have forced them to change the way they buy them. Given the past as guide, many of these changes will be tentative and ineffective. Government at all levels can retard that process of accommodation or speed it up or do both at once, as it does presently. But virtually everyone who builds buildings in Illinois agrees that even if they are not as efficient as they might be, Illinois's new buildings will be more efficient than they used to be—because we won't be able to afford them if they are not. ●

Illinois Capital Development Board

The State of Illinois’s builder, the Capital Development Board (CDB) has officially elevated energy efficiency as a design goal for buildings to the same level as esthetic appeal, functional efficiency and low cost. In 1978 the CDB adopted the ASHRAE 90-75 code, which now is applicable on all CDB construction projects, including additions and major remodelings.

It came not a moment too soon. Public buildings in recent years were, if anything, designed with less heed paid to energy operating costs than their private sector counterparts. The value of building energy conservation into new buildings is slowly beginning to impress itself on public officials whose budgets are no longer rising faster than energy bills. The state's Board of Higher Education, for example, adopted an ambitious conservation plan when it realized that much of the money colleges would like to use for teachers' salaries is being used to pay utility bills instead. A CDB energy audit of the five largest buildings in the Capitol Complex in Springfield revealed that even the most modest retrofitting (exchanging incandescent for fluorescent lights, installing thermostats, redesigning ventilation systems and the like) would save the state more than $13 million over the next 15 years for an investment of only $1.7 million.

The energy savings in some of the larger new CDB projects will easily exceed ASHRAE's minimums. Both the new 17-story State of Illinois Center being built in Chicago's Loop and the mammoth Revenue Center being built in Springfield are expected to exceed not only the present ASHRAE standard but the more stringent Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) proposed (but not yet adopted) by the U.S. Department of Energy. BEPS require that large office buildings use no more than 113,000 Btu per square foot per year. By comparison, the State of Illinois Center is expected to use only 52,000; an Illinois Board of Higher Education survey revealed that in 1979 energy consumption at 39 community colleges averaged more than 150,000 Btu per square foot per year. But even the State of Illinois Center's energy budget is not the leanest among Illinois's new construction crop; the Argonne National Laboratory's new main office building near Chicago uses a variety of active and passive solar features which are expected to shave its annual energy use to a miserly 35,000 Btu per square foot.

It should be pointed out that design energy budgets are approximations. Actual operating energy budgets seldom match design budgets exactly. This is because the design of a building is only one of the factors which determine its energy performance. The management and use of a building must conform to the assumptions built into the design budget. As CDB executive director Donald Glickman explains, "If a new director comes in and says, 'I want walls' in a building designed without walls, it will make a real difference. So will the number of people inside it. We built a school with a projected attendance of 4,000. The actual enrollment was only 2,000. The heating system was designed to use heat from 2,000 bodies that aren't there, with the result that they're freezing to death."

Because of their scale and their configuration, large buildings pose special problems to designers. For instance, the principal climate control problem in a typical office skyscraper is not heating but cooling, even in winter, because of the heat generated by equipment, lights and people. In fact, a skyscraper consists of two buildings: an outer building whose temperature and light fluctuates as a result of exchanges with the outside environment; and an inner, core building insulated from the outer world in which temperature and light are essentially unchanging.

A priority for an architect, then, is to reduce the need for light fixtures in a building, both to reduce the direct load on the electrical system by the lights themselves and the indirect load placed on the air conditioning system caused by the heat those lights generate. In a very tall building the amount of light that can penetrate a given floor is limited ultimately by the fixed geometry of the sun's relationship to the earth. Shorter, squatter buildings offer wider choices by making possible light wells which pierce the interior with natural light. In the case of the Revenue Center (most of which is below ground), this is accomplished by a light well that runs nearly the length of the structure and penetrates through four levels to the basement; the upper floors are set back around the well to allow light to reach the levels below them.

The State of Illinois Center offers an especially dramatic example of the technique. Here virtually the entire sunward face of the building—the top as well as the sides—is a vast glass curtain. But because the wall incorporates 21 different glass types or shapes, and because some of those pieces will set at angles to the horizontal and the vertical and thus will bear loads from wind and snow, contractors have complained. They say that the cost of installation will exceed the budgeted $20 million by as much as $5 million, and have insisted that the CDB reduce from 10 years to 5 the number of years the contractor must guarantee that the window joints remain watertight. Obviously, energy efficiency demands innovation in construction techniques as well as design.

Still, CDB remains more a follower than a leader in the field of energy innovation. Although it accepts innovative designs from the architects it commissions, CDB does not demand them. State agencies by their nature do not relish experimenting with public money. Even the ASHRAE 90-75 code, weak as it is, was not adopted by CDB until 1978, and then only under federal pressure. Agency officials note that CDB may replace ASHRAE 90-75 with the newly revised, stiffer ASHRAE 90A-80 standards when the latter are issued in their final form, but only after careful review. With the General Assembly, the construction industry, taxpayers and user agencies all looking over its shoulder, the Capital Development Board is being a very prudent pioneer. ●

Building Energy Performance Standards

Congress apparently believes that if one national energy building code is good, two would be even better. In addition to requiring in 1975 that states adopt the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90-75 building codes by December 1979, Congress the following year passed its Energy Conservation Standards for New Buildings Act. It was this act that sired a second federal energy code, much tougher than ASHRAE and thus even harder for the states to swallow. It is called the Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) code, and almost nobody likes it.

ASHRAE, like all the standard model codes, is a "prescriptive" code. It specifies standards for each of the various components in a building—appliances, wall insulation and so on—on the theory that the finished building will be as efficient as the sum of its parts. It is, in short, a cookbook code.

BEPS, by contrast, is a "performance" code. Instead of specifying acceptable efficiencies for components it prescribes "design energy budgets" for the building as a whole. These budgets (measured in Btu of energy consumed per square foot per year) are derived using complex computerized formulae that take into account 16 distinct building types and 78 different climatic zones.

BEPS energy budgets are "source-energy related," meaning that energy consumption is measured to include not just that consumed on the site but the additional energy consumed in the process of delivering it to that site. This is done by multiplying projected energy consumption by weighting factors that take into account the efficiency of various energy forms. Efficient natural gas, for example, has a low weighting factor, while electricity—which wastes much of its potential energy in the generation and transmission processes—has a very much higher one.

BEPS thus has a dual role. Since BEPS, unlike prescriptive codes, is concerned more with the "how much" of design than the "how," it affords designers more flexibility. And, because the system provides designers with truer pictures of real energy costs, it is an incentive not only to use less energy but, just as important, to use less of the less efficient kinds of energy.

The most recent proposed energy design budgets are roughly 20 percent smaller than what might be attained by an equivalent ASHRAE 90-75 building. But it is not their tightfistedness that has roused objections to BEPS. Design professionals (who generally support the concept of performance codes) are unhappy that differences between design energy budgets and actual consumption might leave them vulnerable to liability suits. In fact, the Illinois Architects and Engineers Council (IAEC) asked the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to delay implementation of BEPS, complaining that BEPS would increase design time, and thus fees. The IAEC also pointed out that many smaller firms (like most city building departments) lack the computer equipment needed to compile or verify BEPS budgets. In sum, said the council, the program would "disenfranchise many practicing professionals, . . . add to inflation" and cause "delays in construction timetables."

No one else likes BEPS much either. Local building departments complain BEPS is too complex to understand, much less enforce. Electric utilities are unhappy because BEPS penalizes the use of electricity. Rudard Jones of the University of Illinois's Small Homes Council concurs: "I was chairman of the energy committee of the National Institute of Building Sciences. We were opposed to BEPS. We regarded the standards as originally proposed to be incomplete and inaccurate. DOE has to recognize that a performance code has to be accompanied by a specification code that will enable the man in the street to translate it by telling him, 'If you install this, it will have this effect on performance.'" Besides, Jones adds, "Everyone in the building business has a great fear of federal codes because of the way federal  rules are administered.

The Illinois Institute of Natural Resources (IINR) favors prescriptive codes, if only because that's the only type of code that local governments can administer. The point may be moot. Originally scheduled to be in place by February 1980, BEPS has already been delayed and revised and delayed again. IINR officials believe that the BEPS concept is so new, the resistance to it so widespread and Washington's opinion of further federal meddling in states' affairs so disapproving that BEPS will eventually be scrapped. It is still possible, of course, that Washington will opt for some other national energy code, perhaps a variant of ASHRAE 90-75 or a two-tier approach which will give states the option of adopting either a performance code or a prescriptive code. Whatever BEPS' ultimate fate, Illinois architects, builders and public officials have quit looking over their shoulders, at least for the moment. ●




John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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