Capturing and Tracking Energy—Saving Project Goals with the Design Intent Tool

November 11, 2003

Successful implementation of energy-saving building technologies in laboratories is often thwarted by the absence of explicit direction from the building owner, misunderstandings and different visions among members of the design team, and ambiguous performance targets. The lack of clarity created by these problems, in turn, hampers the post-construction commissioning and measurement and verification processes of laboratories. To help prevent these problems, DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed a comprehensive new tool, the Design Intent Tool, which allows project managers to document the design intent beginning in the early stages of a project. The tool helps facilitate a robust new approach to laboratory design, increasing the likelihood of meeting desired energy savings goals.

Documenting Design Intent

Design documents evolve as a project moves through the phases of programming, design, and construction, into building occupancy and potential future renovations and retrofits. Important decisions are made at each stage and they all merit documentation. Ideally, quantifiable metrics are defined at the outset that measure the success of the design and its implementation in meeting the project's objectives.

Design intent documentation is crucial to verifying the proper installation, operation, and performance of energy efficiency features, and is the essence of communication and contractual obligations among the project team members.

BenefitsWhy Document Design Intent?

A building design process devoid of quantitative feedback is unlikely to detect or correct problems. Documenting design intent captures and preserves key information across the building's life cycle, helping to ensure that:

  • Project participants are able to clearly document desired performance objectives during planning phases.

  • Evaluations of proposed design options are better supported and the resulting decisions (including rejection of recommendations) are better documented and shared among design team members.

  • Assessment of design changes during construction and operations and maintenance (O&M) is improved.

  • The commissioning process is more comprehensive and cost-effective when supported by access to clearly-specified performance targets.

  • O&M evaluation of the day-to-day system performance and early detection and diagnosis of maintenance problems are enhanced through performance benchmarking.

  • Performance contracting and measurement and verification are supported in a structured and proactive manner.

  • Post-occupancy evaluation is more easily performed.

  • Critical information is not lost when a facility changes hands.

The Design Intent Tool

At the heart of the Design Intent Tool is a framework in which design goals for energy or other 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 users document design intent through a series of reports (in MS-Word and MS-Excel format), including a "Data Tracker" module to ensure that the owner's goals are periodically verified through performance measurement. Optional templates for laboratory-type facilities and LEED "green buildings" guidelines are packaged with the tool, which can be modified if desired.

The tool was tested with proposed cleanroom and laboratory facilities at DOE's Sandia National Laboratory, NOAA's National Fisheries Marine Service, the Honolulu Laboratory Renewal Project, and a physical sciences laboratory at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Most recently, it was applied to a planned Science and Engineering laboratory on the University of California-Merced campus, and greatly benefited the overall design documentation process.

The Design Intent Tool is a key element of the Labs21 Tool Kit, supporting the program's mission to facilitate sustainable laboratory design. The tool was developed by the Applications Team at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 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.

To learn more and download a free copy of the tool, see