Improving energy performance in existing buildings: a global review of trends in codes and standards 14 July 2021

By Kate Jennings

Last month, the Energy Efficiency Council was pleased to host a joint webinar with the International Energy Agency’s Energy in Buildings and Communities (IEA EBC’s) Building Energy Codes Working Group (BECWG). The webinar featured a panel of world leading experts to discuss the use of energy codes and performance standards to raise the energy performance of existing buildings, improving the health and comfort of occupants, and lowering their energy bills.

This webinar also presented the findings of a report on building energy codes in existing buildings, commissioned by the Australian Department for Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) as part of its contribution to the BECWG.  

Energy performance in buildings: an international review of building energy codes and mandatory performance standards – webinar on Wednesday 30 June 2021

US expert and report lead author Adam Hinge, Managing Director of Sustainable Energy Partnerships, presented key findings from the report’s examination of major types of policies to drive savings and reduce emissions for existing buildings. This includes building energy codes and mandatory energy performance standards, which applied separately or together can present a range of benefits and challenges depending on local conditions. Typically, these policies are used as levers to:

  • Drive building owners towards energy efficient renovations;
  • Lessen energy poverty;
  • Improve building conditions, including occupant comfort and wellbeing;
  • Jumpstart work on the worst-performing buildings; and
  • Generate new jobs and skills.

The panel featured:

  • Louise Sunderland, Senior Advisor, Regulatory Assistance Project;
  • David Nemtzow, Director, Building Technologies Office, US Department of Energy and
  • Liam O'Brien, Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carleton University
  • Alison Scotland, Interim Executive Director, Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council

Louise Sunderland provided insights from a European context, noting that the European Commission is beginning the regulatory reform process to introduce minimum energy performance standards (MEPS). MEPS will address the low renovation rates of existing buildings, which are hampering efforts to decarbonise the economy. The panellists highlighted that Australia and other countries at the preliminary stage of considering MEPS for existing buildings should closely watch as Europe embarks on this experience to inform their own processes. 

MEPS can influence building owners to renovate with energy efficiency front of mind, but this is best achieved through a holistic approach. The panel agreed that using a suite of measures would be most effective to ensuring that the required decarbonisation transformation of the existing building stock is achieved. A possible suite of integrated and complementary measures could include:

  • Using building energy/construction codes as a mature and well-known policy for both new and existing buildings;
  • Implementing minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) to drive improvements for a larger portion of existing buildings, which would more quickly reduce energy use and emissions;
  • Improving information flow to building owners, including by flagging the introduction of new requirements in advance;
  • Providing incentives to improve renovation rates and compliance;
  • Aligning policies and programs with stimulus measures to support implementation, including through investment in the relevant workforce capabilities to match the significant ramp up in activity required; and
  • Empowering administrators responsible for enforcement of building compliance with energy codes and regulations through the provision of appropriate resources and knowledge.

Lessons for Australia

Australia still has work to do before it can begin introducing MEPS to influence energy performance in existing buildings. However, there is preliminary work that can be done to begin the transition to a fully decarbonised building stock. This may include addressing challenges, such as inconsistencies in how building energy performance is managed and enforced across the different states and territories. Or it could be the introduction of incentives for building owners to make changes that align with best practise in energy management and occupant health standards.

As Adam noted in the report, codes and standards that are designed in an integrated manner will have greater success than what they would if accomplished alone. This lesson is also applicable when it comes to working with other countries on improving the energy performance of existing buildings – where we can work together to learn from the experiences of different countries, we can maximise the benefits of these processes to accelerate the global pathway to decarbonisation.

Keen to learn more? You can watch the webinar or download the report Building Energy Codes and Other Mandatory Policies Applied to Existing Buildings.


The Energy Efficiency Council supports the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources with increasing industry, academic and public engagement with the International Energy Agency’s Energy in Buildings and Communities (IEA EBC) Programme in Australia.

The IEA EBC Programme, created in 1977, carries out research and development efforts towards near-zero energy and carbon emissions in the built environment. Activities under the IEA EBC Programme focus on the integration of energy-efficient and sustainable technologies into healthy buildings and communities.

The IEA EBC Programme has coordinated various research projects associated with energy prediction, monitoring and energy efficiency measures in both new and existing buildings. The results of these projects have provided invaluable information about the energy intensity and operation of buildings and communities, leading to further IEA co-ordinated research.


In June 2019, the EBC approved the creation of the Building Energy Codes Working Group (BECWG) to foster stronger collaboration globally on building energy codes.

The BECWG has 15 participating countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.

If you would like to learn more about the IEA EBC, the BECWG or how to get involved, you can find out more on our website here or contact me at

Kate Jennings is a Senior Project Officer with the Energy Efficiency Council; she leads the IEA EBC engagement project and supports a range of other strategic projects. Connect with Kate on LinkedIn.

This article was originally published in the July edition of Efficiency Insight.