Building Performance Standards Are Key To Reducing Carbon Emissions

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) looks at the expanding role of building performance standards as a key strategy to reduce emissions from existing buildings.

By Steven Nadel
Courtesy of ACEEE

Residential and commercial building energy use is responsible for 30% of carbon emissions in the United States. In 2050, the majority of building energy use will be in buildings that are standing today. To address emissions from these buildings, one growing climate policy in jurisdictions across the nation and beyond is enacting performance standards that require buildings to reduce energy use or emissions over time. A new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) examines the building performance standards (BPS) in 18 jurisdictions—including 3 countries, 3 states, 11 cities, and for federal government buildings. BPS policies are pending in 4 jurisdictions, bringing the total to 22, more than double the 10 policies in place in 2020. Current and pending standards, including the 8 standards adopted since 2020, are shown in the table below.

Reducing Carbon Emissions
(Source: ACEEE)


Building performance standards are being successfully implemented in Boulder, Colorado; Tokyo; the United Kingdom; and the Netherlands.

Building performance standards are being successfully implemented in Boulder, Colorado; Tokyo; the United Kingdom; and the Netherlands. Other jurisdictions with BPS policies are now developing regulations and working with building owners to prepare for the mandatory standards to take effect. Compliance dates of domestic building performance standards range from 2024 to the early 2030s, varying by jurisdiction and building size (in many jurisdictions, standards initially apply to larger commercial buildings and apply to smaller buildings later). In most jurisdictions, standards get progressively more stringent over time, with new standards typically taking effect every five years. Most standards cover commercial and multifamily residential buildings above a size threshold, which ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 square feet of floor area.

When wACEEE, Reducing Carbon Emissionse last examined BPS progress, in 2020, most of the standards specified levels of energy performance, such as maximum Btu (British thermal units) of energy consumption per square foot of building floor area. Performance standards are commonly based on median energy use in each building type, with buildings below the median needing to upgrade. But recently, a growing number of jurisdictions are setting standards based on carbon emissions, not energy. Carbon emissions standards are generally more complicated but can gradually ramp down to zero emissions, helping jurisdictions meet their long-term climate goals. However, carbon standards alone do not directly promote energy efficiency, potentially leading to strained power grids, less comfortable buildings, and larger and more expensive building equipment. For this reason, some jurisdictions are setting complementary energy and carbon standards to encourage both energy efficiency and decarbonization…

To learn more about building performance standards, continue reading the rest of this blog post on the ACEEE website.

Steven Nadel, ACEEE

Steven Nadel joined ACEEE in 1989 and has served as executive director since 2001. Before his promotion he served as deputy director and director of ACEEE’s Utilities and Buildings programs.