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What is a Zero Energy Building?

Zero energy buildings combine energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to consume only as much energy as can be produced onsite through renewable resources over a specified time period. Achieving zero energy is an ambitious yet increasingly achievable goal that is gaining momentum across geographic regions and markets. Private commercial property owners have a growing interest in developing zero energy buildings to meet their corporate goals, and in response to regulatory mandates, federal government agencies and many state and local governments are beginning to move toward zero energy building targets.

Cover image of A Common Definition for ZEB


DOE developed a common national zero energy building definition with supporting nomenclature and guidelines to facilitate its use, working with the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and a broad group of market stakeholders. Federal government agencies, as well as state and local governments, have begun to move toward targets for zero energy buildings, but definitions of what it means to have a zero energy building have varied from region to region and from one building professional to another. A broadly accepted definition of zero energy building metrics and boundaries is foundational to efforts by governments, utilities, or private entities to recognize or incentivize zero energy buildings.

Download the Zero Energy Building definition here.


CBI provides resources to help those involved in zero energy building design and construction to control costs, define boundaries and metrics, and otherwise achieve success.

Additional important resources can be found on:

The Energy-Performance-Based Acquisition for Commercial Buildings page, as well as

The Design and Decision Support Tools page.

Cover image of Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings.

Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings: Achieving Zero Energy This guide provides user-friendly guidance for achieving a zero energy K-12 school building. It includes a set of energy performance targets for all climate zones. Strategies on how to achieve these energy targets are provided throughout the guide and include setting measurable goals, hiring design teams committed to that goal, using energy simulation throughout the design and construction process, and being aware of how process decisions affect energy usage.  The intended audience of this guide includes architects, design engineers, energy modelers, contractors, facility managers, building operations staff and facilities planning staff.

Image of the cover of Communities of the Future: Accelerating Zero Energy District Master Planning

Communities of the Future: Accelerating Zero Energy District Master Planning – This conference paper introduces zero energy districts, reviews the structure of the Zero Energy District Accelerator, discusses the value of energy master planning, presents barriers to zero energy districts and how these are being addressed by zero energy district pioneers, and suggests pathways for wide-scale replication.  

Image of the cover of the Cost Control Strategies for Zero Energy Buildings report.

Cost Control Strategies for Zero Energy Buildings: There is mounting evidence that zero energy can, in many cases, be achieved within typical construction budgets. This guide assembles recommendations for replicating specific successes of early adopters who have met their energy goals while controlling costs. A fact sheet summarizing the guide is also available.