Last reviewed 4 June 2012

Paul Clarke looks at Directive 2010/31 on the energy performance of buildings, which comes into effect on 9 July 2012.


Buildings account for 40% of total EU energy consumption and this percentage is growing. The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (2002/91/EC) was the EU's first attempt to focus attention on this sector, covering all aspects of energy efficiency in residential, public and office buildings. Coming into effect on 9 July 2012, Directive 2010/31/EU aims to clarify, strengthen and extend the scope of its predecessor. Recognising the different environments which apply across the Member States, it promotes the improvement of the energy performance of buildings, taking into account outdoor climatic and local conditions, as well as indoor climate requirements and cost-effectiveness. The requirements laid down are to be regarded as a minimum and the Member States may introduce more stringent measures provided these are notified to the European Commission.

Main provisions

The new directive:

  • establishes a common general framework for a methodology for calculating the integrated energy performance of buildings and building units

  • provides for the application of minimum requirements to the energy performance of new buildings and new building units

  • provides for the application of minimum requirements to the energy performance of:

    • existing buildings, building units and building elements that are subject to major renovation

    • building elements that form part of the building envelope and that have a significant impact on its energy performance when they are retrofitted or replaced

    • technical building systems whenever they are installed, replaced or upgraded

  • requires national plans to be established for increasing the number of nearly zero-energy buildings

  • covers energy certification of buildings or building units

  • demands regular inspection of their heating and air-conditioning systems

  • provides for independent control systems for energy performance certificates (EPCs) and inspection reports.

Zero energy

By 31 December 2020 the new Directive stipulates that all new buildings must be "nearly zero-energy" which is defined as a building that has a very high energy performance, as determined in accordance with Annex I of the Directive. The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to "a very significant extent" by energy from renewable sources, including that produced on-site or nearby. Member States must draw up national plans for increasing the number of such buildings, which may include targets differentiated according to the category of building.

Public sector path-finders

New buildings occupied and owned by public authorities must reach the same target with regard to zero energy by 31 December 2018. Directive 2010/31/EU foresees the public sector leading the way in the energy performance of buildings and requires national plans to set more ambitious targets for the buildings occupied by public authorities. An EPC must be issued for: buildings or building units which are constructed, sold or rented out to a new tenant; and buildings where a total useful floor area over 500 square metres is occupied by a public authority and frequently visited by the public. On 9 July 2015, this threshold will be halved.

The Directive notes that public authorities should lead by example and Member States should include within their national plans measures to enable them to become early adopters of energy efficiency improvements and to implement the recommendations included in the EPC as soon as feasible.

Minimum energy performance requirements

New legislation (Regulation 244/2012) responds to the requirement in Directive 2010/31/EU for the Commission to establish a comparative methodology framework for calculating cost-optimal levels of minimum energy performance requirements for buildings. The steps that comprise the comparative methodology framework are set out in Annex III to the Directive and include:

  • the establishment of reference buildings

  • the definition of energy efficiency measures to be applied to these buildings

  • the assessment of the primary energy demand of these measures

  • the calculation of their costs.

The methodology framework set out in Regulation 244/2012 specifies rules for comparing energy efficiency measures, measures incorporating renewable energy sources and packages and variants of such measures, based on the primary energy performance and the cost attributed to their implementation. It also lays down how to apply these rules to selected reference buildings with the aim of identifying cost-optimal levels of minimum energy performance requirements. Regulation 244/2012 applies from 9 January 2013 to buildings occupied by public authorities and from 9 July 2013 to other buildings.