The number of U.S. jurisdictions adopting building performance standards has nearly doubled since 2020, with legislation enacted in three states and nine localities, according to a report published last month by the nonprofit research organization American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

The report says these regulations, which aim to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings by requiring them to meet certain standards, are a key climate policy and can, in some ways, “be thought of as the existing-building analog” to building energy codes for new construction.

ACEEE Executive Director and report co-author Steven Nadel said in an interview he is “really impressed how much progress there has been made” since the nonprofit published a similar report on building performance standards in 2020. For example, he said, more jurisdictions are creating longer-term plans and recognizing that affordable housing may require special provisions.

It’s not new for states and cities to encourage energy efficiency upgrades in existing buildings, with such programs existing for decades, the report says.

However, these programs are too weak in the face of climate change, the report continues, noting that at current rates, it will take more than 300 years to complete whole-building retrofits on all homes and apartments and more than five decades to complete retrofits on all commercial buildings.

Jurisdictions that have enacted building performance standards include Colorado, Maryland and Washington state, as well as cities such as Reno, Nevada; St. Louis and New York City, the report says.

A “key issue” is whether jurisdictions should base standards on buildings’ energy use or greenhouse gas emissions, the report says. They are increasingly turning to the latter, Nadel explained — whereas “virtually all” the standards examined in ACEEE’s 2020 report were energy standards, many more jurisdictions examined in the new report are carbon standards or a combination of carbon and energy standards.

Leaders have historically shied away from carbon standards in part due to the complexity of determining the exact carbon footprint of energy used by a building, Nadel said. However, cities are starting to determine ways to overcome that barrier by administratively setting a standard number for the carbon footprint of each unit of energy, he said.

“That way, the building owners know, ‘OK, there’s so many pounds of carbon per kilowatt-hour,’ and they can just do it, as opposed to ‘Well, I don’t know what the utility is doing. Why are you putting this on me?’” Nadel said.

Read the full article about energy efficiency by Ysabelle Kempe at Smart Cities Dive.