How Energy Codes Influence Metal Roof Panel Selection

On a very basic level, specifiers can look at a climate zone map and get an idea of the metal roof panel best suited to a specific geographic region. The issue, however, is actually much more complex. One must know that overlooking any detail could result, not only in less-than-ideal performance, but also in costly project fail, often related to the project not meeting required energy codes or other standards. With this in mind, an important initial question to consider is how to select metal roof panels that conform to new and fast-changing energy codes and their designated climate zones.

To begin making wise considerations, the architect must know what codes are in play. For instance, is it IECC or ASHRAE 90.1? Which year of the code/standard? Are there additional local code requirements? Even if a state adopts a particular energy code, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all jurisdictions will adopt the code at the same time. Along with this, some local jurisdictions may have their own or additional requirements. To be successful, it is imperative to know what the regional project goals and requirements are. This will require research prior to specifying the metal roof panel and its assembly.

Using IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 for Energy Code Compliance

Three of the basic metal building roof panel types are single-skin standing seam, screw-down and insulated metal panels (IMPs). When using the tables in IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 for metal building roofs it must be remembered that these tables are based on single-skin standing seam roof panels and purlins that are 5′ on center. The tables provide the required R-values and/or U-factors based on climate zones, along with other assembly requirements noted with each tables. In the Appendix of some versions of ASHRAE 90.1, there are allowances for modified roof assemblies, including screw-down metal roofs.

Energy Code
DOE-Developed Climate Zone Map

Often, in certain climate zones, the required R-values and U-factors may be so stringent that the logical first consideration is to use insulated metal panels. IMPs are a great choice for offering high insulation properties in a top-of-the-line product and the R-values and U-factors are readily available for use in compliance calculations.

Keep in mind when deviating from the prescribed assemblies in IECC and ASHRAE 90.1, calculations will be required to show compliance, along with modeling and/or the use of approved compliance software, such as COMcheck.

Making Informed Decisions

Selecting the right metal roof panel is an important step to achieving energy code compliance. Even though energy codes can be complex and are constantly evolving, by making informed metal roof panel selections you will add to the overall success of your project.


Top Five Tips:

  • Know your code. Find out what energy code is required for your project.
  • Know your zone. Requirements vary by climate zone. Identify your project’s climate zone.
  • Understand your options. Deviating from specified assemblies will require approved proof of compliance.
  • Choose wisely. Research the properties and assembly requirements of any metal roof panel. Use this information in conjunction with energy code requirements to make wise choices.
  • Call with questions. Call the manufacturer with questions before you get too far down the road.

The Benefits of Integrating Daylighting Systems with Metal Panels

When metal roofing and wall systems of insulated metal panels, or IMPs, are combined with integrated daylighting and electrical lighting systems (such as with skylights, windows and translucent panels) it can improve occupant wellness and overall building performance. Are you curious if the return would be worth your investment? Uncover the recent advancements in daylighting technologies, the benefits and how to measure your building’s success.

Advancements in Daylighting Technologies and IMPs

In recent years, IMP assemblies have seen significant improvements, including more effective seals and thermal breaks as well as better thermal performance.

A range of novel daylighting products and technologies have been introduced in recent years that aid in the deployment of natural illumination for a multitude of occupancies—maximizing daylighting effectiveness while also maintaining the envelope’s barrier and thermal performance. These tools include pre-engineered, integrated metal envelope and roof solutions with compatible curbless skylights, light tubes, pan-type prismatic skylights, automated dimming controls for lighting, motorized shades and other components.

One example of how new tools are replacing more traditional products is the use of domed and pan-type units with prismatic embossing, which refracts and directs two to four times as much illumination into the indoor spaces when solar incidence angles are more acute, such as in the early morning and late in the day. These prismatic elements also help eliminate “hot spots” and reduce glare and ultraviolet (UV) deterioration from daylighting.

Daylighting with Metal Roofing

Benefits of Investing in Daylighting

Overall, using the current crop of novel skylight products in combination with a highly thermally efficient base system of metal panel walls and roofing will reduce excessive solar heat gain as they reduce the electrical base load for lighting. Highly diffusing acrylic and polycarbonate lenses and spectrally selective glass openings are very effective for maximizing functional visible light indoors while inhibiting unwanted heat gain. Many of the skylight aperture designs block 85% of infrared (IR) and 99.9% of UV light, which also reduces the unwanted degradation of products and materials inside the buildings. Additionally, the new generation of skylights also optimizes solar harvesting because many of the lenses have a minimal effect on VT.

In this way, the use of skylights with metal roofing and IMPs can be an effective way to meet the requirements of IECC 2012 and state energy codes. The skylights reduce overall electrical loads without adding unacceptable levels of solar heat gain, and their small relative area means the overall roof U-values remain low.

How to Measure the Success of Daylighting

Building teams will encounter a number of key variables that help measure the effectiveness of proposed daylighting designs. The most common (and valuable) daylighting performance metrics in use today include the following:

• Daylight factor
• Window-to-wall ratio, or WWR
• Effective aperture, or ea.
• Daylighting depth
• Solar heat-gain coefficient, or ShgC
• Haze factor
• U-factor

Using the above tools and terminology, building teams can better assess the benefits of daylighting strategies with skylights, prismatic pan-type products and solar light pipes, among others. In particular, these are important for meeting the widely used 2012 International Energy Conservation Codes (IECC) and ASHRAE 90.1 as well as state energy codes and “reach targets” such as green building certifications, the Passive House standard and others.

How to Learn More

The use of building systems combining metal roofing with skylights and integrated lighting provide significant life-cycle performance. Much of this is due to the research and development behind the individual products and materials used for these applications.

For a more in-depth look at daylighting within the context of metal roof and wall systems, please refer to MBCI’s whitepaper, Shining Light on Daylighting with Metal Roofs, which showcases the strong rates of return of using integrated daylighting systems with novel prismatic optics and high-efficiency lighting on metal envelopes with good thermal and barrier performance.

Download the White Paper, Daylighting with Metal Roofs

A Common Misconception About Determining Thermal Resistance

metal roofing r value
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy

As an architect, you’re required to design a building’s wall to meet the code-required R-value (or U-factor) in the International Energy Conservation Code. So you design the wall and add up the manufacturer-stated R-values of the components.  Done, right? That method only makes sense if walls have no joints, seams, windows, or doors! Let’s think about this.

Accounting for Thermal Discontinuities

The manufacturer-stated R-value of an insulated metal panel (IMP) should really be the R-value in the center portion of the panel, if the manufacturer uses terminology consistent with ASHRAE 90.1. However, a wall is made up of many IMPs, and there are joints between the IMPs.  We’ve all seen the infrared photos showing the heat loss at joints between panelized anything—plywood, insulation boards…and IMPs. The joints between each and every IMP are thermal discontinuities, commonly called thermal bridges. These are locations where the R-value is not what you read in the manufacturer’s literature. There are also metal clips and attachments that reduce the R-value of the IMP wall system. If you’re designing a wall system, don’t specify the R-value of the panel and assume it is the R-value of the wall system!

Calculating the R-Value of a Complete IMP System

A building owner deserves a wall that meets or exceeds the code-required minimum R-value or U-factor. The mechanical engineer needs to properly size the building’s mechanical systems based on the ‘real’ characteristics of the building envelope.

Let’s put some numbers behind this idea. Let’s consider a 42 inch-wide panel, 2 inches thick, with a stated R-value of 12. The outer surface of the panel is close to the exterior temperature—say 30 degrees. The metal wraps through the joint, decreasing the temperature of a portion of the metal on the backside of the panel everywhere there is a joint. Clearly this reduces the overall R-value of the IMP as a system.  Let’s estimate that the thermal bridging effect of the joints reduces the R-value 5 inches along the edges of the panels to an R-6. That means 30 inches of the panel has an R-12, and 10 inches of the panel has an R-6. That calculates to an average R-value of 10.5 for the panel overall, which is more than a 12% loss of R-value. This is why blindly using the famous equation of R=1/U is dangerous. That equation is only true if the R-value and U-factor involved are consistent with how thermal bridging is or isn’t represented.

U-Factor Testing for Higher Accuracy

It’s clear that the panel joints are thermal bridges, but the extent of loss is really an educated guess. But there is a solution! The forward-thinking IMP manufacturers are performing U-factor testing and finite element modeling, and that includes joints between panels. The U-factor testing is a more accurate determination of thermal resistance.

As an architect designing the wall system, if you use stated R-values, recognize that you’ll need to account for the loss of R-value because of the joints. Or, simply specify panels whose manufacturers are determining the U-factor for their IMPs!

Codes: More than the IBC and IRC

IBC IRC CodeWe all know to look to IBC Chapter 15 and IRC Chapter 9 for information about roof systems.  These two “Roof Assemblies and Rooftop Structures” chapters include the requirements for fire, wind, impact, materials, and reroofing.  But did you know the scope of the building code (IBC Section 101.4) references additional model codes that are considered to be part of the requirements of the IBC?  From a roofing perspective, this scoping reference brings into play the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the International Existing Building Code (IEBC).

The creators of the model codes are attempting to ensure that buildings (and roofs, in our case) are designed and built according to the most recent model codes even if they haven’t been specifically adopted by a state or local jurisdiction.  If a jurisdiction adopts and enforces the 2015 IBC, by reference the 2015 IECC and 2015 IEBC are in effect.

How do 2015 IECC and 2015 IEBC affect roofs?
The IECC Commercial Provisions include energy efficiency requirements for the same buildings for which IBC Chapter 15 roofing requirements are required.  The IECC includes minimum insulation, air barrier, and reflectivity requirements for building envelopes.  Prescriptive R-values and U-values are provided for roofs, and they are based on climate zone, metal buildings, and attics.  Minimum levels of solar reflectance and thermal emittance are required for low-slope roofs on buildings with air-conditioning in climate zones 1, 2 and 3.

Air barriers—used to reduce or eliminate air leakage—are required for new construction.  These are based on materials, systems, or the whole building.  Sheet steel and aluminum are listed as materials that meet the air barrier requirements.  Of course, the joints and seams are critical to the effectiveness of metal roofing panels when considered to be air barriers.  When reroofing, air barrier requirements are not triggered, which is significant.  But the insulation requirements are triggered.

Roofing and structural considerations
The 2015 IEBC includes sections about reroofing (Section 706, which is new in the 2015 IEBC) and structural considerations (Section 707).  The IEBC divides “Alterations” of buildings into three types: Levels I, II and III.  A level I alteration includes the removal and replacement of existing materials.  Reroofing is a level I alteration, which triggers the requirements of Chapter 7.  The Structural section includes a requirement to upgrade a wind-resisting roof diaphragm when more than 50 percent of the roof is removed where the design wind speed is greater than 115 mph, and in special wind zones.  While these are small portions of the United States, it’s important to understand this requirement.

Build roofs with the full scope in mind
Look beyond the roofing chapters to ensure that you design and build buildings according to the most recent building codes.

Code Requirements for Cool Roofs with Climate Zone Specifics

There is still a lot of discussion—some agreeable and some not so agreeable—about the necessary color of our rooftops.  One side of the discussion revolves around keeping the surfaces of our built environment “cool,” so there’s a movement to make all rooftops “cool” by making them white, or at least light-colored.  Those on the other side of the discussion claim that cool roofs are necessary to reduce a building’s energy use.  Cool roofs can be a really good idea, but let’s not mix up the reasons why cool roofs matter—are we cooling the urban areas (that is, reducing urban heat islands), or are we saving energy costs for individual buildings? Cool Roofs
The average building height in the United States is less than two stories, but “white roofs” are mostly desired in dense, urban areas…and how many buildings here are less than two stories?  Tall buildings are typically found in dense, urban areas, with shorter buildings dominating the fringe urban areas.  In the suburbs and rural areas, one- and two-story buildings are more the norm.  So we have a mix of building heights in the United States, but the conflict is that the “cool roof” focus is often where the tallest buildings exist.

And unfortunately, a cool roof on a 20-story building isn’t going to reduce its energy use, especially if the code-required amount of insulation exists on that roof.  Rather, reducing energy use of a 20-story building hinges on the energy efficiency of the 20-story-tall walls—R-value of walls, percentage of windows, and solar blocking eaves, just to name a few items.  Conversely, the energy efficiency of a one-story big-box store comes down to its roof.  And for these buildings, roof color definitely can make a difference.  However, our building codes don’t differentiate based on building proportions, but only on geographic location—and that’s problematic.  But as designers, we can improve on the code requirements.

The 2015 International Energy Conservation Code provides specific information about cool roofs, which are required to be installed in Climate Zones 1, 2, and 3 on low-slope roofs (<2:12) directly above cooled conditioned spaces.  There are two ways to prescriptively comply with this requirement: use roofs that have a 3-year-aged solar reflectance of 0.55 and a 3-year-aged emittance of 0.75.   Notice that initial (i.e., new) reflectance and emittance are not specified; long-term values are more important.  The second method to comply is to have a 3-year aged solar reflectance index (SRI) of 64.  SRI is a calculated value based on reflectivity and emittance.  It’s important to understand why a cool roof is desired and to make appropriate design decisions.

To locate metal roof products that meet the IECC requirements, go to and use the search function to narrow your results or view our finishes’ SRI ratings on our Cool Metal Roofing page.

Air Barriers and Vapor Retarders

Air Barrier Vapor Retarders

Building design and code requirements are readily becoming rooted in building science, which is the study of heat, air, and moisture movement across the building envelope.

Reducing the heat energy transfer (which is bi-directional based on geography and climate) is why insulation is used.  And arguably more important is the need to reduce airflow (aka, air leakage) across and through building envelopes.  This airflow often includes a lot of heat and moisture; therefore, buildings’ HVAC systems work hard (and use energy…and cost money) to make up for the heat and moisture gains and losses in order to maintain proper interior temperature and humidity levels.  Environmental Building News, in an article titled The Hidden Science of High-Performance Building Assemblies (Nov. 2012) , stated “Air infiltration and exfiltration make up 25%-40% of total heat loss in a building in a cold climate and 10%-15% of total heat gain in a hot climate.”  This is why the model codes are now mandating air barriers.

The 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), Section C402.4, Air leakage (Mandatory) provides the requirements for air barriers in new construction.  Prior to 2012, building codes did not include air barrier requirements.  The first step taken in the IECC was to mandate air barriers in Climate zones 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (locations north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in a broad sense).  Climate zones 4 through 8 are heating climates, where the largest potential for heat loss occurs.   The IECC provides three ways to comply; air barriers requirements can be met through material, assembly, or whole building testing.  A blower door test, used to test a whole building, seems to be the most common way used to show code compliance currently.  The IECC included a list of materials that prescriptively meet the code requirements for air barrier materials; sheet steel and aluminum are on that list.

Three years later the 2015 IECC went a step further.  Section C402.5, Air leakage—thermal envelope (Mandatory) extended the requirement for air barriers by mandating their use in all climate zones in the United States except zone 2B, which is a hot/dry zone.  Climate zone 2-dry includes only southwest Arizona, southwest Texas, and a small part of Southern California.  Essentially all new buildings in the United States are required to have air barriers, and sheet steel and aluminum remain prescriptive air barriers.  It’s important to know that when reroofing, the air barrier requirements do not apply.

The IECC is available for purchase on ICC’s website:

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