In 2019, Washington joined a small but growing number of jurisdictions adopting energy performance standards for buildings.

That year, state lawmakers passed the Clean Buildings Act (House Bill 1257), which requires a phased-in adoption of building energy performance standards over the next decade.

More stringent building energy standards, such as those envisioned by the Clean Buildings Act, are necessary to address climate change, says a new white paper from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Buildings in the United States account for 39 percent of the country's energy use in 2020 and 31 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, according to federal data cited in the paper, released June 22.

Energy efficiency standards must focus on existing buildings and not only new construction. Projections forecast that about 44 percent of commercial buildings and 67 percent of homes in 2050 have already been constructed as of today, the ACEEE white paper says.

At the current sluggish pace, retrofitting all existing homes and buildings in the U.S. "would take centuries," the report says.

The leading retrofit program, the U.S. Department of Energy's Home Performance with Energy Star, retrofitted 86,660 homes in 2018. The Weatherization Assistance Program, a federal grant program, served 33,819 homes that year, the report said.

"Together, these two programs served 0.09 percent of the 138.5 million housing units" in the country, the report stated. The total number of housing units is from U.S. Census Bureau data.

At that pace, it would take nearly 600 years to get to all homes in America.

Under Washington's Clean Buildings Act, the state's Department of Commerce will adopt an efficiency standard for buildings by Nov. 1. Compliance with the standard will be voluntary until 2026 for commercial buildings with 50,000 square feet or more of floor area.

Beginning in 2026, the standards will become mandatory for buildings with floor area of 220,000 square feet or more. Buildings with floor area above 90,000 square feet will be phased in the following year, and buildings with 50,000 square feet or more floor area will be phased in in 2028.

The ACEEE paper lists eight key lessons, including there is no universal policy approach, it takes time to build support and hash out details, and different metrics must be used for commercial and residential buildings.

Contributing Editor

Dan has covered stories from Seattle to Tbilisi; spent time with the AP, Everett Daily Herald and Christian Science Monitor; and was twice a member of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife have three young children and live in Seattle.