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Energy efficiency basics

If you’re serious about making your buildings as energy efficient as possible, you need to know some basics. The concepts described below are important to understand and adopt in order to maximize the energy performance in your building.

  • What energy efficiency is
  • How it applies to the phases of your building’s life cycle
  • How to train your employees to be energy efficient
  • How to retro-commission and recommission your building

This page delivers that information in a concise format with links to many more sources of information.

Combine energy efficiency with energy conservation

The terms "energy conservation" and "energy efficiency" are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing:

  • Energy conservation is when you take an action such as turning down a thermostat several degrees. You'll use less energy, but you might be cold.
  • Energy efficiency is when you take an action such as installing a more energy-efficient heater and better insulation. Using the same amount of energy, you can set your thermostat quite a bit higher.

Building owners and managers who are committed to lowering their energy and water consumption will get the best results by combining both approaches. Install a more energy-efficient heater and better insulation, and turn your thermostat down a few degrees. You’ll still be comfortable, but you will be using less energy.

Commit to an integrated design process for new buildings

Integrated design brings together all the parties in a building’s design and operation to create a new, high-performance building or undertake a major renovation. It is a collaborative process that:

  • Focuses on the design, construction, operation and occupancy of a building over its complete life cycle
  • Allows the building owner and key stakeholders to develop and realize their challenging functional, environmental and economic goals and objectives
  • Starts with whole-building system strategies and works through increasing levels of specificity to realize truly integrated solutions

When you commit to an integrated design process, you are making an investment that benefits generations today and tomorrow.

Learn more about integrated design.

Lower your building’s energy use over its life cycle

Energy is consumed at every stage of a building's life cycle – from design and planning through to operations, deconstruction and decommissioning. Good energy management involves lowering energy use during all phases.

1. Design

This is when you begin to evaluate your energy efficiency options. An integrated design process ensures that all stakeholders involved are working toward energy efficiency from the start.

Learn more about the design phase.

2. Construction

Evidence shows that high-quality construction lessens the future maintenance of a building. Also, investing early in energy efficiency is less expensive in the long run.

Most buildings have a life span of 50 to 70 years or more, so it makes sense to use energy-efficient materials, systems and equipment from the start.

Learn more about the construction phase.

3. Commissioning

The commissioning process involves:

  • Careful checking to ensure that all building systems work together as they should
  • Training to ensure that operations staff know how to use all equipment
  • Planning for the next commissioning process to ensure that efficient operations are maintained throughout the building’s life

Read about how to commission your building to ensure that its systems are working as they should.

Learn more about the commissioning phase.

4. Operations and maintenance

Most of the energy your building consumes will be used during this phase. Therefore, it is important even if your building was not originally built to a high-efficiency standard.

Learn more about operations and maintenance.

5. Deconstruction and decommissioning

Deconstruction is a method of disassembling a building to safely and efficiently reuse and recycle materials. While windows, doors and light fixtures are routinely salvaged, deconstruction also aims to save and reuse flooring, siding, roofing, and framing where these materials have retained their value.

Learn more about deconstruction and decommissioning.

Energy management best practices

Energy management best practices focus on more than just investing in technological changes such as retrofits to improve energy performance. They recognize the huge impact that the culture of an organization and the behaviour of a building’s occupants have on overall energy use.

Learn more about energy management best practices.

Energy benchmarking

Understanding your organization's energy consumption is where you start to become more energy efficient. Energy benchmarking identifies poorly performing buildings so you know where to invest. It also:

  • Provides a common platform for multiple market transformation tools (e.g. codes, programs, policies)
  • Identifies poorly performing buildings for targeted investment
  • Demonstrates a building owner's environmental commitment
  • Enables verifiable claims about the increased market value of energy-efficient green buildings
  • Establishes a standard, national system managed by a third party to measure energy use improvements

Take advantage of the savings that energy benchmarking has to offer by benchmarking your energy data with ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Visit our Energy benchmarking page or access ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager directly.

Energy management training

Energy management training is an essential element in your energy management toolbox. Effective training programs pay for themselves many times over through annual energy savings between 4 and 20 percent.Footnote 1

Find resources to meet all your energy-training needs.

Commissioning, recommissioning and retro-commissioning

Commissioning and recommissioning are key to optimizing your building's overall energy performance by ensuring that your building is operating as intended and designed. Commissioning generally applies to new buildings, while recommissioning and retro-commissioning are processes you can use on existing buildings.

Ongoing commissioning

After a commissioning or recommissioning project, ongoing commissioning can make sure that a building continues to work optimally. It prevents a building's electromechanical systems from degrading and maintains the benefits of commissioning and recommissioning.

More information about commissioning, recommissioning and deconstruction

More information about integrated design

Tools and reading for building design

Tools and reading for building construction

Tools and reading for operations and maintenance

Tools and reading for deconstruction and decommissioning

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