RE2020: what developments are expected in France and Europe?

Marie Voyer
April 2024

The energy performance of buildings is at the heart of European environmental policy, with the EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive) providing a common normative framework for EU member states. The revision of this directive implies new requirements in terms of lower energy consumption, with an ambitious target of zero emissions in new buildings by 2030. In France, the Réglementation Environnementale 2020 (RE 2020) represents a major regulatory development in this area, and is currently the most demanding in Europe.

From RT2012 to RE2020, a look back at the evolution of thermal and environmental building standards

Since 1974, in the wake of the first oil crisis, several thermal regulations have been introduced to encourage the construction of more energy-efficient buildings. The most recent thermal regulation, RT2012, was designed to meet the objectives of the 2007 Grenelle Environment Summit: to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a quarter of 1990 levels by 2050.

The RE2020 environmental regulation is part of the ELAN law (Évolution du logement, de l'aménagement et du numérique). It goes beyond the requirements of RT2012 in terms of the energy performance of new buildings, but above all, it introduces the need to take into account the entire life cycle of a building in order to measure its environmental impact, both during construction and operation.

RE2020 goals

The RE2020 is part of an ongoing drive, at both national and European level, to improve the comfort and energy performance of buildings. Its objectives are threefold:

  • Accelerate the reduction in energy consumption in new buildings, in particular through better insulation performance
  • Reduce the environmental impact of new construction and building in general by activating levers at all stages of the building life cycle: from construction materials and processes to energy consumption during the operating phase (heating and water, lighting, air conditioning)
  • Offer occupants a living or working environment adapted to climate change, in particular with greater resistance to heat waves.

The new RE2020 requirements

Thermal regulations (RT) have been replaced by environmental regulations (RE), with more global objectives. The main new features of the RE2020 are:

  • Taking account of climate change and its effects on buildings (houses and apartment blocks), with the creation of an indicator of discomfort for occupants
  • A broader scope of energy assessment, which considers heating and cooling as well as ventilation, lighting and domestic hot water production, with greater emphasis on renewable energy sources
  • Taking account of the impact of the manufacture of construction materials, with greater emphasis on bio-sourced materials.‍

RE2020 and LCA (LifeCycle Assessment)

One of the most important regulatory developments is the introduction of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in the RE2020. With the RE2020 taking effect on January 1, 2022, conducting an LCA to quantify the environmental impact of new buildings has become the norm. The RE2020 requires LCA for the GHG emissions indicator alone, with maximum thresholds that must not be exceeded to limit the building's impact on climate change. But a full LCA enables builders to make informed choices based on many other indicators, such as water pollution and waste production.

Towards stricter RE2020 requirements

In 2022, RE2020 will first apply to the construction of individual and collective housing, then to the construction of offices and primary and secondary educational establishments. In a third phase, the standard will be extended to other types of building, such as shops, gymnasiums, railway stations and hotels. The requirements are to be tightened in successive stages, with new obligations coming into force and tolerance thresholds lowered in 2025, 2028 and 2031. Each step corresponds to a new threshold for reducing carbon impact, first by 15%, then by 25% and finally by 30%. Other requirements are being phased in gradually: the exclusion of gas heating in new multi-family housing, for example, will only be introduced in 2024.

An update on the energy performance of buildings in Europe

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), in force since 2006, is the reference legislative instrument at European level. It includes a harmonized method for calculating the energy performance of buildings, common certification systems and standardized protocols for testing heating and air-conditioning systems. Member states remain free to set their own minimum energy consumption standards for their territories. The EPBD has been amended several times, in 2018 and in 2021. The latest revisions include a "zero emissions" target for all new buildings by 2030 (including individual housing), and from 2027 for public sector buildings. Energy consumption performance certificates have also been adjusted to make them easier to read.

Energy consumption in the building sector is a crucial issue and an essential lever for meeting the objectives of the French Energy and Climate Law. Achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 can only be achieved through a change of scale in low-carbon and low-energy certification thresholds. While the RE2020 regulations only apply to new-builds, renovation is another challenge not to be overlooked. Here, too, standards are being tightened, with a move towards low-energy buildings and, as in construction, towards the use of low-carbon, bio-sourced renovation materials. In the face of the climate emergency, the entire housing and commercial building market must meet the highest environmental standards.

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