Step 4: Design to be energy efficient

As you design your building, be sure to think about energy efficiency at every step along the way.


The conventional design process usually evaluates energy-efficient technologies late in the schematic design or during design development. However, the greatest opportunity for cost-effective energy measures occurs earlier in the design process.

During the pre-design stage, make sure you:

  • Conduct a facilitated charrette and include energy objectives pertinent to the design.
  • Develop a plan and adopt a method for delivering a top-performing, energy-efficient building.
  • Begin to investigate energy-related design concepts that consider the environment, climate, building orientation, passive strategies, and other features that will impact performance well into the future.
  • Develop a scope of work, project budget, and schedule that account for energy-efficient strategies and achieving your energy target.

Schematic design and design development

As your building design unfolds, plan to perform periodic energy analyses of your design to understand how much energy your project is anticipated to use (in kWh, therms, or other units). Follow EPA’s tips for effective energy analysis to ensure you end up with a realistic estimate of your design’s energy use. Enter this estimate into Portfolio Manager or Target Finder. Both tools will calculate the following :

1. The 1 – 100 ENERGY STAR score and percent better than national median for your current design
2. The energy use required to achieve your stated goal
3. All associated energy, cost, and emissions data

It may be that your current design doesn’t exactly meet your target goal. As you continue trying out various design strategies, you should continue running numbers through Portfolio Manager or Target Finder until your design’s estimated energy use matches your target.

Finalize designs

Once your design’s projected energy use matches your target energy use, it’s time to finalize your designs. At this point, be sure to:

  • Identify energy-efficient design elements that require careful specification.
  • Select qualified manufacturers. Don’t accept unapproved alternatives for installing/constructing key energy-efficient features/systems.
  • Assemble resources that explain installation, operation, and any other requirements.
  • Gather manufacturers' technical literature for energy systems and components to include in construction documents and for use during building commissioning.
  • Supplement literature with the design team's summaries of intended operation and energy use.
  • Seek incentives for meeting the energy performance goal. Local utility companies may offer rebates to offset costs. Find rebates, incentives, and financing services for energy projects.

Assemble construction and bid documents

The project documents should include a detailed account of energy-efficient strategies, technologies, and construction methods. Make sure your construction team has a track record for implementing energy-efficient features. You’ll need professionals who can install your specified technologies and correctly execute your design strategies. Make sure to:

  • Include energy use goals in specification documents. See our sample energy performance specification.
  • Print a Statement of Energy Design Intent (SEDI) from Portfolio Manager or Target Finder to document the intended energy use, ENERGY STAR score, percent better than national median, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Include manufacturers' literature and contact information for local technical representatives associated with specific energy-efficient products and materials.
  • Include the design team's summaries of energy-efficient features in specifications and drawings.
  • Explain anticipated functions of features to assist the construction team in understanding the desired outcome.
  • Seek incentives for meeting the energy performance goal. Local utility companies may offer rebates to offset costs.
  • Specify detailed commissioning activities in project contracts.

Supervise construction

Plan to continue focusing on energy efficiency during construction to ensure that the energy-efficient features you worked so hard to design are not value-engineered out of the project. Also include all updates and changes in documents and drawings. It’s a good idea to:

  • Reassess your design’s projected energy use after making any changes to your design or equipment specification to see if you’re still on track to meet your goal.
  • Establish accountability measures for all parties to ensure that the energy goal is achieved.

Portfolio Manager vs. Target Finder

Which tool should you use?

Energy design strategies

Check out a list of resources for building design guidance and resources.