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Capturing and Tracking Energy-Savings Project Goals with the Design Intent Tool

There is an increasing understanding in the buildings community that it is necessary but not sufficient to specify technologies or design features that can effectively realize energy savings in buildings. Successful implementation of energy-saving features is often thwarted by the absence of explicit direction from the building's owner, misunderstandings or inconsistent visions among design team members, and ambiguously defined energy-performance targets. The lack of clarity created by these problems hampers the post-construction processes of commissioning and measurement and verification. Robust documentation of the design intent for a building's energy performance can result in a comprehensive and holistic design process that achieves its energy-savings goals. A new computer-based Design Intent Tool developed by Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) researchers addresses these needs by documenting key building design information in a centralized, accessible format, increasing the likelihood that a building will be constructed and perform as designed.

Why Document Design Intent?

Design documents evolve as a project moves through programming, design, construction, building occupancy, and potential future renovations and retrofits. Design intent documentation is crucial for verifying the proper installation, operation, and performance of energy-saving features, ensuring that energy performance objectives are realized and can be maintained over time. Ideally, quantifiable metrics are defined that can be used to assess the success of the design and its implementation in meeting the project's energy-efficiency objectives.

Documenting design intent is a team effort. All key stakeholders need to be involved, including the building owner, occupants, design team members, facility operators, construction manager, and commissioning agents. Design documentation forms the basis for communication and contractual obligations among these team members.


A building design process that does not incorporate quantitative feedback is unlikely to detect or correct problems. Effective documentation of design intent captures and preserves key information across the building's life cycle, helping to ensure that:

  • project participants are able to clearly articulate desired energy-performance objectives during formative planning phases.
  • evaluations of proposed design options are supported, and the resulting decisions (including rejection of recommendations) are recorded and shared among design team members.
  • design changes during construction and operations and maintenance (O&M) can be effectively assessed.
  • the commissioning process is comprehensive and cost effective because it is supported by reference to clearly specified energy-performance targets.
  • O&M evaluation of day-to-day system performance and early detection and diagnosis of maintenance problems are enhanced through energy-performance benchmarking.
  • performance contracting and measurement and verification are supported in a structured, proactive manner.
  • post-occupancy evaluation is easily performed with reference to documented objectives.
  • critical information is not lost when a facility changes hands.
Screenshot of the Design Intent Tool

The Design Intent Tool

The heart of the new Design Intent Tool is a computerized framework in which design goals for energy-consuming systems can be described in terms of Objectives (overall goals), with subordinate Strategies (specific means of achieving the goals) and Metrics (measurable performance targets).

This tool helps the user create a design intent document as well as a series of reports (in MS-Word and MS-Excel format), including a "Data Tracker" module to ensure that the achievement of the owner's goals is periodically assessed though measurement of energy performance. Optional templates for laboratory-type facilities and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines of the U.S. Green Buildings Council are packaged with the tool.

During development of the tool, design intent documentation was carried out for proposed cleanroom and laboratory facilities at Sandia National Lab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, the Honolulu Laboratory Renewal Project, and a physical sciences laboratory at the University of California (UC) at Santa Cruz. In a demonstration of the finished tool, several individuals from the design team prepared a 24-page design intent document for a planned Science and Engineering laboratory facility at the UC Merced campus, including more than 36 Objectives, 106 Strategies, and 54 Metrics. The architect for this project noted that the tool filled an important "gap" in the current design documentation process.

The Design Intent Tool was developed by the Applications Team at Berkeley Lab, with primary sponsorship from the California Energy Commission. The California Institute for Energy Efficiency sponsored initial conceptual development of the tool. Portland Energy Conservation Inc. collaborated on an earlier version of the tool.

— Evan Mills

For more information, contact:

  • Evan Mills
  • (510) 486-6784; fax (510) 486-6996

To download a free copy of the Design Intent Tool, see http://ateam.lbl.gov/DesignIntent/home.html

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