The Energy Chronicles

Everything You Need to Know About the Des Moines Energy and Water Benchmarking Ordinance

Des Moines Benchmarking Ordinance Infographic

The Des Moines city council passed an energy and water benchmarking ordinance on June 3rd. Here’s what that means:

Buildings over 25,000 square feet within Des Moines city limits are now required to report their annual energy and water usage to the city once a year starting in 2020.

Read on to learn what benchmarking is, if your building is included in this ordinance, how an energy professional can help you, and the answers to some common questions.

In this article you’ll learn:

Who does this affect?

This ordinance directly affects building owners with single buildings that measure 25,000 square feet or greater. The owner of the building holds the responsibility to report energy and water use to the city annually. The owner may appoint a property manager or another agent to perform this task on their behalf.


You may be exempt if any of the following conditions apply.

  • Residential buildings and multi-family buildings with 4 or fewer units.
  • Industrial buildings
  • K-12 schools
  • Buildings used primarily for religious assembly
  • Buildings that did not have a certificate of occupancy for the entire calendar year
  • Buildings with a demolition permit that vacated the property during the calendar year
  • Buildings that did not receive utility services for 30 days or more during the calendar year
  • Buildings with an average daily occupancy of one person or less
  • Buildings that the owner can prove financial distress
  • Buildings that claim legal protection of trade secrets that would be breached under this ordinance
  • Buildings that cannot gain access to utility energy and water usage data
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings
  • Multifamily residential buildings built within the last 5 years

What is benchmarking?

Benchmarking is the process of tracking the energy and water usage of one building and comparing it against other buildings to determine a relative energy performance ranking. In this case, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star Score is used as the performance ranking.

Why should I benchmark?

Benchmarking is the best way to determine the overall energy performance of a building. By using Energy Star scores, buildings in Iowa can be compared to those around the country. This allows building owners to see how they compare to other similar buildings and can alert building owners to poor performing buildings. Low Energy Star scores are great indicators of buildings that have big opportunities for energy savings.

Often times utility bills are reviewed, paid, and forgotten. It’s tough to tell how a building is performing just by reviewing bills each month. Utility bill costs change monthly as the seasons, billing periods, and rates change. Benchmarking stores the usage data itself, not just the costs, to see how much energy the building is using.

Energy Star Score

Energy Star Score Info

An Energy Star Score is a number between 1 and 100 that represents a percentile ranking of a building’s energy use intensity as compared to buildings across the United States. An Energy Star score of 50 means that the building uses as much energy as the median building in the country. A score of 75 means that the building is performing better than 75 percent of similar buildings across the country.

Energy Star scores normalize for weather and billing cycles. All buildings are compared with buildings of the same function (i.e. schools are compared with schools). The data used to calculate the scores comes from the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). While water use must also be tracked to comply with the Des Moines ordinance, water is not a factor in the Energy Star Score.

How Do I Calculate My Energy Star Score

There are two free online platforms available for Des Moines buildings to calculate their Energy Star Score and complete their benchmarking requirements.

  • Energy Star Portfolio Manager: This tool through the U.S. EPA is free and available to anyone online. Energy Star is the national standard that all other platforms reference for Energy Star Scores. Use Portfolio Manager here.
  • B3: This tool through the State of Iowa was developed as a platform for public buildings to benchmark energy use in Iowa. This platform is now available for all buildings in Des Moines required to comply with the new benchmarking ordinance. Use B3 Benchmarking here.

What information do I need to enter?

Property Information

First, you will need to enter some basic property information about the building that you are benchmarking.

  • Gross Floor Area: This is the square footage of walkable floor space between the exterior walls of the building. It includes closets, mechanical rooms, and stairways but excludes atriums and crawl spaces.
  • Occupancy Rates
  • Main Building Uses: Is your building all office space? Is it an office space with retail?

There are a few more pieces of property information that you will need, depending on the type of building. For instance, you may need to enter the number of workers on the main shift, if there is a pool, or how many bedrooms there are in the building.

Utility Data

The most important information to prepare is your utility usage. This includes electric, natural gas, propane, water, and any other fuel sources you use at your building. You will need to input utility data that covers January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019. This will likely be 13 months of bill information since usage periods typically do not line up with calendar months. Make sure you have the usage for each meter at your building or aggregate building usage.

Common Questions

Here are answers to some common questions surrounding the benchmarking ordinance.

What about water usage?

Water use does not affect your Energy Star score. So, how is water use reported?

Water Use Intensity (WUI) is the metric used to report water performance. WUI is measured as the gallons of water used per square foot of the building. Unlike the Energy Star score, WUI is not a ranking among peers. The WUI of your building should be compared to local or national average WUIs of similar buildings in order to determine how your building is performing.

Why was water included in this ordinance?

You may wonder, if the purpose of this ordinance is to encourage energy efficiency and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then why is water included? The answer is that water and energy are inherently tied together. Treatment and transportation of water requires large amounts of energy. In turn, energy production requires large amounts of water (most often for machine cooling). Therefore, conservation and efficient use of water will further the goal of reducing emissions from energy.

Des Moines Water Works spends millions of dollars each year to operate its nitrate removal facility. The increasing need for water treatment causes ratepayers’ water rates to increase. Implementing water efficiency measures often provides a quick return in Des Moines.

Why was this ordinance passed?

This benchmarking ordinance was passed as the first step towards Des Moines’ Climate Action Plan. In their Strategic Plan, the City of Des Moines set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 28% by 2025. The goal of this benchmarking ordinance is to encourage building owners to improve the energy and water efficiency of their buildings in order to address the objectives of the Climate Action Plan, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fostering a sustainable economy through environmentally sound buildings practices and energy efficiency.

Have other cities done this?

Yes. Many other cities across the country have benchmarking requirements. Some policies have even been adopted state-wide.

U.S. Cities That Have Benchmarking Requirements

Benefits of Energy Professionals

While it’s possible to comply with the energy benchmarking ordinance using internal resources, there are a number of benefits to seeking help from an energy professional.


To be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification, a building must earn an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or higher, indicating that it performs better than at least 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide. To be eligible for approval, your application must be verified by a licensed Professional Engineer (PE), which The Energy Group has on staff ready to assist you.

Go Beyond the Score

Benchmarking will identify how your building is performing overall compared to other similar buildings. It will also allow you to see how your building’s performance has changed over the years compared to itself. However, it will not identify which system within your building is performing poorly or where problem areas are. Benchmarking is a great first step, but it is not a complete energy efficiency program. We recommend using your benchmarking information to begin looking into potential energy hogs in your building. An energy audit is a great first step to help identify how much of your energy use is going towards which system, and where improvements can be most cost-effective.

Avoid the Cost of Doing Nothing

There is a cost to keeping inefficient equipment around, which manifests in the form of missed energy savings, higher and more frequent repair costs, and the overall health and comfort of your employees and customers. Pinpointing the exact places where your building is underperforming will help you get the most bang for your buck when deciding what improvements to implement.

Do you need help with benchmarking your building?

The Energy Group is an energy efficiency consulting company locally based in Des Moines. We have worked with customers to identify and improve energy efficiency for the past 30 years. We benchmark buildings every day as part of our typical energy efficiency analysis of buildings. The Energy Group can do all of the reporting for you, give you context about your score, and identify ways to improve. Contact us today to schedule your free benchmarking consultation.

This entry was posted in Services and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *