Driving data center design: Codes and standards

In the information age, data centers can be the beating heart of not just a building, but an entire global corporation. Local codes and standards must be carefully reviewed and adhered to.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer February 2, 2015


  • Andrew Baxter, PE, Principal/MEP Engineering Director, Page, Austin, Texas
  • Brandon Kingsley, PE, CxA, CEM Project Manager, Primary Integration Solutions Inc., Charlotte, N.C.
  • Keith Lane, PE, RCDD, NTS, RTPM, LC, LEED AP BD+C, President/Chief Engineer, Lane Coburn & Associates LLC, Seattle
  • Dwayne Miller, PE, RCDD, CEO, JBA Consulting Engineers, Hong Kong 

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

Kingsley: Local building codes, NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC), and AHSRAE standards are the most common. Uptime Institute is also referenced quite often when discussing data center reliability level.

Baxter: Certainly the NEC; NFPA 13, 30, 72, 74, and 75; International Building Codes; ASHRAE 15, 52.2, 62.1, and 90.1; and any locally derived codes specific to a jurisdiction. We will also use owner-specific guidelines and requirements for reliability and in lieu of these will often default to the Uptime Institute tier standards.

CSE: Have Energy Star, ASHRAE, U.S. Green Building Council, Uptime Institute, etc., affected your work on data center building projects? What are some positive/negative aspects of these guides?

Baxter: Certainly these have affected our projects. Most of our data center projects these days are either directly certified by U.S. Green Building Council LEED or incorporate this as a basis of design for the facility even if certification is not submitted for. Also, the Uptime Institute tier level definitions continue to be the most widely acknowledged and asked for (and thus used) set of standards used for defining the reliability of a data center facility. Most owners who have their own reliability standards have used the Uptime Institute standard as a starting point.
Kingsley: LEED and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 probably have the biggest effect. For example, ASHRAE 90.1-2013 requires larger pipe and duct sizes than previous code versions required, so construction costs are higher. The older versions of ASHRAE and LEED applied to office buildings, not directly to data centers, which sometimes created challenges in determining how to apply the standards. Both ASHRAE and LEED will have new standards tailored for data centers. We understand, for example, that ASHRAE’s new data center standard will require design to PUE and water usage calculations. We anticipate that the new LEED for data centers will reference the new ASHRAE standard.

CSE: Which code/standard proves to be most challenging in data centers?

Kingsley: I would not say that one code is more challenging than another. The biggest challenge is dealing with the local code officials-it seems that each local official interprets parts of the code differently.

Currently, I would have to say ASHRAE Standard 90.1. This standard continues to change every 3 years, and over the last three iterations has brought several new and more restrictive requirements to the design and operation of data center facilities. The increasingly more prescriptive approach that ASHRAE 90.1 is taking toward the data center design is, in many cases, in direct conflict with the growing push toward energy-efficient and highly reliable systems. Many of the newer systems used in data centers do not have standardized ways to model them to show compliance with the standard and thus create impediments to their increased implementation.