Everything you need to know about Philly's building tune-up policy

By Katie Bartolotta

Posted February 12, 2020

This past November, Philadelphia City Council passed the Building Energy Performance Policy - more commonly referred to as the Building Tune-Up bill - requiring owners of large buildings to conduct periodic tune-ups of their energy and water systems.

The legislation builds off the awareness of energy and water use in buildings fostered through the city’s benchmarking ordinance by requiring owners to complete low- and no-cost actions to make their buildings more efficient.

The city is actively developing the regulations that will fully define compliance requirements and the specifics of the program. Since it's still a work-in-progress, we would advise building owners to wait until the regulations have been published* to contract with a tune-up specialist. 

*Regulations were published in October 2020. We wrote about the specifics in a blog post

Until then, here's what is certain based on language in the legislation:

Which buildings are subject to the ordinance?

The ordinance defines "covered buildings" as "any non-residential building with indoor floor space of at least 50,000 square feet." This is the same as the original group of buildings that were required to benchmark their energy and water use back in 2012. 


Which systems are required to undergo a tune up?

Base building systems must be inspected including "systems or subsystems of a building that use energy or impact energy consumption including building envelope, the HVAC (heating ventilating and air conditioning) systems, conveying systems, domestic hot water systems and electrical lighting systems."

Excluded from this definition are tenant-owned systems, condominium or cooperative units, and systems that serve only a tenant's leased space. Indsutrial processes are also exempted. 

After the inspection is completed, corrective action must be taken to "resolve all adjustments and minor repairs that are identified through the inspection." Minor repairs are defined as "low-cost repairs to existing equipment such that the scope of work does not require permits from the Departments of Licenses and Inspections."

The forthcoming regulations will provide further insight into what must be corrected and what is optional.

What are the components of the inspection?

  • Bill analysis: examine and verify energy and water data and perform basic billing analysis.
  • Sensors: examine for proper operation and appropriate location.
  • Schedules: examine schedules of all equipment for actual daily, weekly, holiday, and seasonal schedules; determine optimal schedules.
  • Set points: examine setpoints for all zones and equipment.
  • Outside air control: calculate ventilation requirements, measure actual ventilation rates, and determine optimal ventilation delivery and control.
  • Equipment controls: determine optimal equipment controls for energy efficient operations.
  • Maintenance check: check for common maintenance items that impact energy usage.
  • Design issues: identify design issues leading to a high energy use such as missing insulation, mission controls, large leaks, unbalanced systems, critical zones.
  • Lighting: identify outdated lighting technologies, over-lit spaces, and areas needing lighting controls.
  • Domestic plumbing system: determine maintenance needs.

Components of the inspection will be further defined in regulations. 

For an example of what an inspection protocol looks like in practice in a peer city, see the City of Seattle's inspection workbook.


Who can perform a tune up inspection? 

“Qualified tune-up specialist” is defined as a licensed Professional Engineer or Certified Energy Manager. The inspection component of a tune-up "shall be supervised by a qualified tune-up specialist" who "shall provide to the building owner a signed inspection report setting out findings and recommendations regarding each of the required inspection elements." The Office of Sustainability may establish other qualification requirements for tune-up specialists through the regulations.

Who can complete the required corrective actions?

In-house staff or contracted service providers can complete the corrective actions so long as the final building tune-up report is verified and signed by a qualified tune-up specialist.


Are there alternative compliance pathways?

Yes. A building owner may be exempted from a scheduled building tune-up upon a showing, no later than 180 days prior to a scheduled tune-up, of any of the following high-performance pathways:

  • Within the year immediately preceding the scheduled tune-up a building has received a Certified ENERGY STAR Score of at least 75.
  • A building already has in place active optimization efforts, including monitoring and ongoing commissioning
  • A building is scheduled to be demolished within one year of the date of the scheduled tune-up.
  • A building, within the three years prior to the scheduled tuneup, has either:
    • Received a green building certification including a Gold Rating under the USGBC’s LEED for Building Operations and Maintenance v4, or a Net-Zero Energy Certification from the International Living Future Institute.
    • Participated in and successfully completed a utility retro-commissioning incentive offering.
    • Completed a full retro- or re-commissioning procedure, with documentation that building performance was optimized.
    • Achieved energy savings of at least 15 percent and provided measurement and verification report to the Office of Sustainability.
    • Has undergone an energy audit no less stringent than the ASHRAE Level II standard and implemented all the no-cost/low-cost energy efficiency measures, defined as providing a simple payback of three years or less, identified in the audit. 
    • Received its initial certificate of occupancy. 


Additional alternative compliance pathways may be included through regulations or upon determination by the Director of the Office of Sustainability.


When does my building need to comply?

Tune-up reports that cover inpections and corrective actions and are signed off on by a qualified tune-up specialist are due on the following schedule:

For buildings of at least 200,000 square feet: September 30, 2021.
For buildings of at least 100,000 square feet and less than 200,000 square feet: September 30, 2022.
For buildings of at least 70,000 square feet and less than 100,000 square feet: September 30, 2023.
For buildings of at least 50,000 and less than 70,000 square feet: September 30, 2024.

Buildings owners can complete their inspections and corrective actions no earlier than two years prior to the scheduled compliance deadline. 

All buildings will be required to comply again with the tune-up legislation five years after their initial deadline.

What about large portfolio owners? Are we subject to the same compliance schedule?

The Director of the Office of Sustainability may provide upon application an alternative compliance schedule for building owners that own "20 or more covered buildings or cumulative floor area in covered buildings of five million (5,000,000) square feet or more."

If you meet these requirements, it's likely that one or more of your buildings is eligible for a high-performance pathway so start with identifying those buildings first. 


Do I REALLY have to do this?


If a building owner does not comply - either by conducting a tune-up OR showing proof of meeting an alternative compliance pathway - the owner will be subject to a $2,000 fine. After the thirtieth day of non-compliance, an owner is subject to an additional fine of $500 each day until compliance is met. 

A building's compliance date and compliance status - compliant, high-performance exemption, non-compliance - will be published publicly. 


Still have questions? Need clarification? 

Green Building United will keep everyone updated as the City of Philadelphia publishes regulations in the next few months that provide additional compliance details beyond what's outlined in the bill language. *Update* Regulations have been published as of October 2020. We provide detail on what clarifications and next steps are included in a more recent blog post

If you're a building owner or manager, consider joining the Philadelphia 2030 District where we provide regular updates to our participating partners. Reach out to Katie Bartolotta at kbartolotta@greenbuildingunited.org for more information on joining. 

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