Officials from the International Energy Agency (IEA) commended advanced nations such as the U.S., Canada, Russia and others for their efforts to date, but says that more can be done still in the building of energy-efficient building envelopes, including the increased use of insulating glass, low-E coatings and triple-glazed windows. Wednesday’s release of the Energy Efficient Building Envelope Technology Roadmap marked the official unveiling of the international agency’s plan to make all new buildings more environmentally-friendly while lowering energy costs by 2050.

IEA officials said that windows account for the largest single source of energy loss in buildings, so naturally the roadmap addressed that issue in great detail. While lauding countries like the U.S., Canada and Russia for their efforts in recent years to move towards more energy-efficient buildings with stricter building codes and technical improvements such as low-E double-glazed windows, high levels of insulation and low air leakage, the IEA says in its roadmap that it would like to see the additional upgrades necessary in the future for zero-energy buildings.

The use of specific, highly-insulating windows with very stringent U-values and triple-glazed windows, complete with double low-E and a low-conducting frame, are among the roadmap’s chief choices for improved energy efficiency.

Better optimizing daylight in new building with integrated façade systems that minimize heating, cooling, artificial lighting and electrical needs is another upgrade called for by the roadmap.

The roadmap says that optimized building design and advanced window and glazing systems can improve passive heating in cold climates, while heating and cooling demands can be reduced by at least 40 percent through efficient envelope technologies.

In addition to their savings, LaFrance said that the building envelope improvements can improve occupant comfort, while also offering “significant” non-energy benefits such as reduced health care costs and reduced mortality of “at-risk” populations.

For warm-weather climates, the roadmap illustrates how low-cost solutions such as reflective roofs and walls, exterior shades and modern window coatings and films can trim energy use for cooling expenses that are expected to increase by as much as 600 percent in emerging economies.

“Achieving energy efficiency and reducing building emission reductions in the business sector is a very ambitious goal,” said Didier Houssin, the IEA’s director for Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology.

The challenge is all the more pressing, given the world’s ongoing population increase that will add to the demand while taxing the environment even more.

The roadmap, which calls for 50 percent reductions and 38 percent savings by 2050, rightly focuses on the construction and renovation of buildings, which account for 35 percent of the world’s energy consumption, 50 percent of electricity use and a third of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

“What we want is for people to take this roadmap and help implement it in a most effective way,” said the IEA’s Marc LaFrance, the roadmap’s primary architect.

Both IEA officials stressed that buildings – the biggest area of contention in the quest for energy efficiency and global emissions – also offer the biggest area of potential savings.

While whole-building approaches are ideal, IEA officials said that every day building envelopes are upgraded or replaced using technologies that are less efficient than the best options available. The roadmap stresses those advanced, cost-effective options that not only better support the whole-building approaches, but also the energy efficiency of individual components.

“Buildings remain in service a long time,” Houssin says. “When not built correctly, they make for problems for a long time.”

More information about the Energy Efficient Building Envelope Technology Roadmap is available here.