Zero Energy Toolkit 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.

Guidance by Building Steps


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


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


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


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

  • 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.

About Toolkit

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

If you have additional questions about the Zero Energy Toolkit, please check the Zero Energy Toolkit FAQs (PDF).