Building Codes Improve Inefficient Buildings




Building codes are widely seen as an effective means of improving inefficient building practices. Legislators can learn from Germany, where building codes have proven their effectiveness. Since 2001, Germany has integrated requirements for thermal insulation and heating systems into an ordinance on the thermal efficiency of buildings. The Ordinance defines minimum efficiency standards for components and also defines the maximum allowable energy consumption per square meter/year. This ordinance has resulted in a 70% energy saving in new buildings compared to existing buildings.


The idea: 

Buildings take up a large share of a country's total energy consumption and inefficient practices result in huge amounts of energy wastage.


Buildings consume and often waste huge amounts of energy, but the wasteful and environmentally unsound practices can be stopped if legislators undertake measures to encourage energy efficient design and better operational practices. Measure that legislators and governments may want to consider for creating a more energy efficient construction and building sector include:


  • Provide good information to investors, constructors and consumers on energy efficiency; stimulate co-operation between providers of equipment and building companies.

  • Involve energy companies when designing such energy efficiency programs.

  • Create a market for energy efficiency services in order to solve the investor-user dilemma.

  • Introduce energy certification of buildings. Energy certification helps to raise the awareness of the occupants and owners of a building about the energy efficiency of that building. It provides a means of integrating energy related information about a building into the procurement process and making it available to purchasers, rather than just leaving it with the building professionals.

  • Remove the worst technologies and building practices from the market through building codes and update the codes regularly in order to include technical progress in energy-efficient construction. Building codes are widely seen as the best way to improve inefficient building practices.

  • Heating and cooling systems are some of the most inefficient and costly components of a building. For most countries, cooling is more important and more energy consuming than heating. Legislation may be adopted to help to reduce the electricity demand from air conditioning. Technologies are available to cut electricity demand by some 70%. Legislation may be introduced particularly in tropical countries dependent on energy imports, allowing for example a maximum of 0.05 kWh per square meter per day for air conditioning in new buildings. For existing buildings, a phasing out of inefficient air conditioners within 25 years may be required.

Legislators can learn from Germany where building codes have been very effective in addressing the problem of inefficient buildings.

Germany integrated requirements for thermal insulation and heating systems into a building thermal efficiency ordinance adopted in 2001. This ordinance combines the requirements for thermal insulation and heating systems with minimum efficiency standards for components, and defines the maximum allowable primary energy consumption per square meter/year. This gives architects and planners more freedom to optimize either the heat insulation or the heating system of new buildings, or both. The ordinance also contains some regulations for existing buildings.

Some of the main features of the ordinance, in addition to the primary energy requirements, are:

  • Major renovations (defined as a minimum of 20 % of the surface on one side) of walls, windows, or roofs of existing buildings must meet the same standards as new buildings.

  • Buildings constructed or renovated according to the ordinance have to obtain a heating energy certificate, which must be shown when selling or renting the building.

  • Boilers that are more than 25 years old must be exchanged for new and more efficient ones, and heat distribution pipes and roofs must all be insulated by the end of 2006.


As a result of the 2001 ordinance, there has been a 70% energy saving in new buildings compared to existing ones. The cost savings on heating fuels more than outweigh the extra costs of thermal insulation and efficient heating systems and the growing market has contributed to making energy efficient building components price competitive. For example, special energy efficient double-glazed windows (with heat mirrors and insulating gas filling) are now less expensive in Germany than plain double or single-glazed windows which loose two to four times as much energy.

Compliance with any building codes and regulations must be closely monitored. Information for investors and building professionals on savings, technologies and methods is important. Research for more advanced building technologies and methods should also be provided in order to help participants to comply with the standards.