Zero Energy Checklist for State Buildings

The Checklist is intended to assist project teams in the development of a Zero Energy (ZE) or Zero Energy-Capable (ZE-C) buildings for Washington State agencies.

What is Zero Energy?

A Zero Energy building meets its net-annual energy demand via on-site renewable energy.

What is embodied carbon?

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the materials required for a project.

Why Zero Energy?

Washington State is taking leadership in energy efficient buildings, renewables and climate action.

Which projects are applicable?

All newly-constructed state-owned buildings that are subject to WA Executive Order 20-01.


During Pre-Design, teams should establish a shared context and vision of the project goals, analyze the feasibility to achieve Zero Energy or Zero Energy-Capable, and begin to set specific energy targets.

Actions to take

Gather key background information to inform the Zero Energy approach:

♦ Inventory site resources;
sun and wind access, existing buildings or materials for reuse
♦ Solicit stakeholder feedback;
interview agency users, operators and community members about their views on the project and opportunities
♦ Benchmark existing building energy use;
collect utility bills or meter data from existing properties to understand current usage trends

Build awareness on the Zero Energy goal and what it means for the project development:

♦  Host a kickoff meeting to discuss Zero Energy;
review the definition and case studies, discuss operational expectations with staff
♦  Conduct a feasibility study of Zero Energy;
estimate on-site renewable energy capacity and propose energy use targets per space type
♦  Connect with utility or regulatory authorities;
review incentives or policies that may support the Zero Energy goal

Incorporate Zero Energy into contract documents:

Document Zero Energy evaluations in the Pre-Design package;
state goal and targets, include site feasibility and cost evaluations
Include Zero Energy in budget packages;
state Zero Energy target and provide detail on any anticipated cost implications
Develop an Owner’s Project Requirements;
state Zero Energy goal and energy use target(s), building program and operational criteria, and system performance targets
Incorporate Zero Energy into Request for Qualifications;
add energy evaluation and management expertise to RFQ criteria, ask candidates about their approach in interviews


Zero Energy Frequently Asked Questions (pdf)
clarifications on the Zero Energy target that includes definitions, scope, and interpretations
Guidelines for Considering Net Embodied Carbon  (pdf)
considerations and steps to reduce net embodied carbon for WA State agency projects
Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) Guidance (pdf)
template outlining goals, performance criteria and recommended strategies for WA State projects
Request for Qualifications (RFQ) Guidance (pdf)
appendix outlining the energy-related scope of work and team qualifications for ZE projects
Zero Tool (link)
a simple tool to create a project-specific energy baseline, based on comparable buildings.
Toxics in new Building Guidance (pdf)
Strategies to Reduce Toxic Materials in New Buildings and Renovations.
Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study (pdf)
example study of evaluating Zero Energy costs compared to conventional construction
 Certified Zero Energy Building Case Studies (ILFI)
database of Zero Energy certified projects of varying scales, uses and location
  Getting to Zero Buildings Database (NBI)
database of claimed and verified commercial zero net energy projects in North America
♦ Low Carbon Campus Guidance (pdf)
The purpose of this document is to provide strategic guidance to Agency project teams regarding their campus thermal district energy systems and associated building systems.


During this phase, project teams should define and test strategies to meet the energy targets and operational expectations set during Pre-Design. The project manager and commissioning agents should backcheck progress against the Zero Energy target at each issuance of design documents.

Actions to take

♦ Host a Zero Energy Design Charrette;
share background information and energy context, brainstorm broad approaches to meet target
♦ Conduct a preliminary embodied carbon assessment;
use life cycle assessment (LCA) tools to identify highest carbon intensive materials and reduction opportunities
♦ Specify low embodied carbon products;
incorporate characteristics that result in lower carbon, request carbon data from suppliers
♦ Record strategies in project Basis of Design;
highlight the passive strategies and system packages that achieve Zero Energy
♦ Register the project with a certification authority;
gain access to technical support and certification resources


♦ Zero Energy Project Guide
guide summarizing the key steps and considerations in developing a Zero Energy project
♦ ZNE Integrated Design Charrette Toolkit
guidance and sample tools for use in a Zero Energy design charrette
♦ Zero Energy Certification
information on the Zero Energy certification process and technical support from the International Living Future Institute
 An Architect’s Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process
guide outlining energy analysis tools and their use for design decision-making
♦ Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE)
list of all federal and state incentives available for building projects pursuing energy efficiency or renewables
♦ Carbon Smart Materials Palette
guide with low embodied carbon criteria for common building materials


This stage involves verifying the proper installation of specified building systems to both maximize energy efficiency and minimize the project’s embodied carbon impacts.

Actions to take

Engage construction team in the Zero Energy goal:

♦ Hold construction kick off meeting;
review Zero Energy target and embodied carbon reduction approach, highlight key materials and systems that contribute towards goals
♦ Confirm installation of selected materials and systems;
closely track submittals, ensure any substitutions are vetted for energy and carbon impact 

Establish means to audit energy performance:

♦ Install energy metering;
ensure that major end uses can be isolated and data can be shared with operators, tenants and visitors
♦ Conduct envelope and systems commissioning;
verify performance of installed assemblies and systems, ensure controls are functioning as intended


♦ Helen Sommers Building | Measuring and Reducing Embodied Carbon in Concrete (Sellen) (pdf)
summary of the embodied carbon reduction strategy for a Washington State agency building


This stage focuses on communicating the systems present in the building to both operators and occupants alike to sustain both excitement for and proper management of the project.

Actions to take

Formalize the building hand-off to ensure optimal building operations:

♦ Provide facilities / operator trainings;
conduct initial training and periodic retraining on operational and maintenance protocols
♦ Provide systems manual;
provide digital and physical copy of systems manual, review controls sequences with operations staff

Provide resources to engage building users:

♦ Provide user trainings and educational signage;
offer tours and briefing on Zero Energy to building users, install signage to explain building controls and/or systems
♦ Develop and share tenant guidelines (if applicable);
provide simple guidance on operating the building systems, equipment selection recommendations and other tips

Closely monitor operations over the first two years:

♦ Benchmark energy against the design target;
monitor occupancy and energy use trends, troubleshoot operational variances, report data to Energy Star Portfolio Manager
♦ Submit project for certification;
SEEP has approved the Reveal label from the International Living Future Institute to certify zero energy performance of state-owned buildings. Projects must provide 12 months of performance data.


Green Lease Library (IMT)
library of guidance documents for tenant engagement, lease development and collaborative energy management strategies
 Zero Energy Certification (Reveal label)
information on the Zero Energy certification process and technical support from the International Living Future Institute
ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager
online tool to report annual energy use or automate data import from utility bills, used by State agencies to track energy use
♦ Helen Sommers Building: Tenant Improvement Guide & Architectural Standards (DES)
case study of tenant guideline for a Washington State agency building