Focus on data centers: Codes and standards

Designing efficient and effective data centers and mission critical facilities is a top priority for consulting engineers. Engineers share suggestions and feedback on data center codes and standards.



  • Cyrus Gerami, PE, LEED, CxA, Associate, Senior Project Engineer/Manager, exp Global Inc., Maitland, Fla.
  • Kerr Jonstone, IEng, MIET, Senior Electrical Engineer, CH2M Hill, Glasgow, Scotland 
  • Keith Lane, PE, RCDD/NTS, LC, LEED AP, President, Lane Coburn & Assocs., Bothell, Wash. 
  • James McEnteggart, PE, Vice President, Primary Integration Solutions Inc., Charlotte, N.C.
  • Robert M. Menuet, PE, Senior Principal, GHT Ltd., Arlington, Va. 
  • Brian Rener, PE LEED AP, Electrical Platform Leader and Quality Assurance Manager, M+W Group, Chicago, IL.

Codes & Standards

CSE: What codes, standards, or guidelines do you prefer to use as a guide as you work on these facilities?

Menuet: In addition to jurisdiction-mandated building codes, I use ASHRAE Technical Committee 9.9 (TC9.9) publications, white papers from the Uptime Institute and other industry groups, and at GHT, we have also developed our own standards to guide our project designs.

Johnstone: Notwithstanding local codes applicable to the location of the data center, design standards and documents which we refer to are ASHRAE TC9.9, Telecommunication Industry Assn. (TIA) 942, Code of Conduct on Data Centres Energy Efficiency, BREEAM for Data Centers, client design guides, and client- and industry-driven tier classifications.

Gerami: ASHRAE is the primary standard, followed by other related industry standards and publications such as ANSI and LEED.

CSE: How have Energy Star, ASHRAE, The Green Grid, etc., affected your work on mission critical facilities and data centers? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Gerami: There is a need for more integration of efforts and publications. Codes rely on the research and recommendations from the industry. Sometimes the published data are in conflict or outdated.

Johnstone: ASHRAE TC 9.9 has opened opportunities to use a broader range of cooling solutions; however, these are not applicable for all projects due to client constraints and risk-averse industries (banking/ financial). As these cooling technologies become mainstream, solutions will focus on energy efficiency.

Menuet: The Green Grid led the way, developing the first accepted metric for data centers: PUE. ASHRAE is addressing critical environmental conditions and system configuration issues with manufacturers. One challenge presented by ASHRAE guidelines is that when initially developed (prior to TC 9.9), they were very commercial office building-centric, and it was difficult to apply them to data centers. The development of TC9.9 has created useful guidance and tools for mission critical facility designers.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in such facilities?

Rener: We have found implementing ASHRAE’s recommended environmental criteria requires commitments from IT and the data equipment suppliers to operate at elevated temperature and humidity levels. This is often difficult to obtain.

Johnstone: Planning constraints can prove challenging in particular with reference to renewable technologies. In the UK/Europe, cooling technology and efficiency is often limited to air cooled due to risk aversion to water-cooled technologies.

Menuet: The recent applicability of the energy efficiency standards in ASHRAE 90.1 to data centers has been challenging. As stated previously, data center cooling system designs and equipment have been focused on availability and durability. Energy-efficient operation has been added to the mix.

Gerami: Energy codes and general building codes and standards cannot effectively address unique challenges and characteristics of high-powered data centers. A separate code based on annualized PUE should be developed.

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