United States

Making progress despite policy gridlock

The United States has created a “messy but useful” combination of incentives, regulation, persuasion, and innovation at the federal and state level, which has contributed to a recent decline in emissions. Sustaining and escalating this emissions decline while creating more cost-effective policy in the face of tightened government spending is the next challenge.


These graphs show the changes in emissions, emissions drivers, and policy in the Buildings sector in the US


Emissions Building sector emissions

Emissions grew slowly, but steadily, until 2005, when emissions peaked and slowly declined.


    Emissions Drivers Contribution of key drivers to increase or decrease of annual buildings emissions

    Growth in population and floor space per person were the largest drivers of buildings emissions. In the late 2000's, energy efficiency gains caught up with slowing floor space growth.


      Policy Building energy efficiency spending by government

      Efficiency spending by federal and local governments increased over the last decade, with a spike due to the 2009 stimulus.

        • The first building and appliance standards appeared before the decade began; heterogeneous state standards led to federal appliance standards. Utilities began energy efficiency programs.

          • Policy Barriers

            • Emergence of building codes
              First ASHRAE standard, 1975
              Scattered code adoption by states
            • Demand-side management emerged
            • First appliance labeling and standards
              National Energy Conservation and Policy Act of 1978 authorized Department of Energy to set energy efficiency standards for 13 appliances
              Appliance Labeling Rule of 1980 mandated “EnergyGuide” labeling of appliances
              National Appliance Energy Conservation Act adopted uniform minimum efficiency standards for many household appliances, 1987
              Industry-driven in face of variety of state standards (Geller 2006, EERE 2012)
            • Tax Reform Act of 1986 increased deduction for mortgage interest payments
          • Underlying changes

            • Suburbanization trend that began mid-century continued
        • The 1990s saw wider and more stringent building code adoption due to federal requirements and assistance. Federal appliance standards and voluntary programs increased in scope. A residential construction boom began in the latter half of the decade.

          • Policy Barriers

            • Montreal Protocol to phase out halocarbons entered into force in 1989
            • First close federal involvement in state code creation with assistance in creating ASHRAE 1989 (PNNL 1994)
            • Energy Policy Act, 1992
              Required states to adopt commercial building codes
              Required the Department of Energy to offer states technical and financial assistance in code creation and adoption
              Expanded Department of Energy’s authority over labeling and energy effciency standards in appliances
            • Energy Star voluntary energy effciency labeling program initiated, 1992
            • Power sector restructuring led to demand-side management cutbacks (ACEEE 2006) (RFF 2004)
            • Market transformation programs initiated (RFF 2004)
          • Underlying changes

            • Residential construction boom commenced in mid-1990s
            • Suburbanization continued and home size increased
            • IT build-out and increased use of electronics and appliances across commercial and residential buildings (EERE 2008)
            • Increased appliance “plug load” (DOE 2011)
              Rise in residential air conditioning continued (68% - 77% of all households) (DOE 2011)
              Space heating shares between gas and electric constant
        • The federal government increased spending on building energy efficiency. A “green premium” was associated with energy-efficient commercial building construction and retrofits.

          • Policy Barriers

            • Energy Star program expanded to cover wider range of appliances
            • Financial incentives
              Tax incentives for domestic and commercial building energy effciency (Energy Policy Act 2005)
              State Energy efficient Appliance Rebate Program
              American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2009
              Energy Effciency and Conservation Block Grants
              Funds for states to decouple utility rates and to improve building codes
            • Energy Effciency Resource Standards (EERS)
              First was Texas in 1999
              By 2011, 24 states (including California, Texas, and New York) have EERSs (ACEEE 2011)
          • Underlying changes

            • “Green Premium” in energy efficient office space drove “green” commercial occupancy and leasing rates above average commercial rates (Miller 2008)
            • Residential construction boom until 2007 housing bubble collapse
            • Crime fell in urban areas, associated with accelerating residential construction in urban areas (EPA 2009)
            • Fuel shifted in space heating (DOE 2011b)
              Residential buildings shifted increasingly to electric space heating (from approximately 29% to 35% of households)
              Decline in natural gas for residential space heating (from approximately 55% to 50% of households)
            • Continued IT build-out and household appliance growth across commercial and residential buildings (EERE 2008)