Key concepts: energy efficiency

While the concepts described below are not new to those involved with energy management, they are important to understand and adopt if you are serious about maximizing the energy performance of your building. Whether designing a new building or retrofitting your existing building, these principles are the same as those used by cutting-edge energy management leaders around the globe to make their buildings more functional, sustainable, productive and cost-effective.

Energy conservation vs. energ efficiency

Energy conservation vs. energy efficiency

"Energy conservation" and "energy efficiency" are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences. At the most basic level, energy conservation means using less energy and is usually a behavioural change, like turning your lights off or setting your thermostat lower. Energy efficiency, however, means using energy more effectively, and is often a technological change. Energy efficiency measures differences in how much energy is used to provide the same level of comfort, performance or convenience by the same type of product, building or vehicle.

Conservation certainly reduces energy use, but it's not always the best solution because it may impact comfort or safety as well. Efficiency, on the other hand, maintains the same level of output (e.g. light level, temperature) but uses less energy to achieve it.

A combination of both energy conservation and energy efficiency measures yields an ideal solution.

For example:

To conserve energy, you can turn your thermostat down several degrees. You'll use less energy, but you might be cold. To become more energy efficient, install a more energy efficient heater and better insulation. Using the same amount of energy, you can set your thermostat quite a bit higher. To get the best of both approaches, use the more efficient heater and insulation, but turn your thermostat down just a bit. You'll still be comfortable, but you'll be using less energy.

Integrated design

Integrated design

The integrated design process is an approach that brings together key stakeholders and design professionals to work collaboratively and interactively from the early planning stage through to building occupancy when designing a new, high performance building or implementing a significant renovation project. It focuses on whole-building design and considers the building structure, its systems and the building site as one interdependent system that helps to create sustainable communities. The process doesn't contain any radically new elements, but integrates well-proven approaches into a systematic total (or holistic) effort. It is a collaborative process that:

  • focuses on the design, construction, operation and occupancy of a building over its complete building life cycle
  • is designed to allow the client and key stakeholders to develop and realize clearly defined and challenging functional, environmental and economic goals and objectives
  • uses a multi-disciplinary design team that includes or acquires the skills required to address all design issues flowing from the objectives
  • proceeds from whole-building system strategies working through increasing levels of specificity so as to realize more optimally integrated solutions

Source: Integrated Design Process, Public Works and Government Services Canada website.

When you commit to an integrated design process, you are making an investment that benefits generations today and tomorrow. Learn more about integrated design in our Energy efficiency for new buildings and Capacity building resources sections.

The building life cycle

The building life cycle

Diagram showing the phases of a building’s life cycle, as described in the accompanying text

Energy is consumed at every stage of a building's life cycle - from design and planning through to deconstruction and decommissioning. Energy management involves more than simply overseeing monthly utility bills. Although monitoring utility bills seems to get the most attention, the design, construction, commissioning, operations, and deconstruction and decommissioning phases all have energy-related implications and environmental consequences and there are opportunities to capitalize on the most efficient lifetime costs in all five phases. From the sourcing of construction materials, through occupancy, to the deconstruction stage, you can incorporate comprehensive energy management strategies and best practices to minimize energy use and its impact on the environment. A good understanding of how energy is consumed during each stage is the key to effectively managing it.

During the design and construction phases, committing to an integrated design process and building to higher standards and regulations will have a positive impact on the energy efficiency of your new building. The operations and maintenance phase - the longest phase in your building's life cycle - is the period where the most energy is consumed. Committing to a best practices approach will initiate a cycle of continuous improvement and superior energy management. And when a building does finally reach the end of its life, you can strive to be as energy efficient as possible during deconstruction and decommissioning. The five building phases are outlined below along with some strategies you can take to maximize your efficiency:

1. Design phase

The perfect time to begin evaluating energy efficiency options is during the design phase. An integrated design process ensures that all stakeholders involved are working towards energy efficiency goals from the start.

Tools you can use:

  • Canada’s energy code calls for buildings to be built to a high energy performance standard.
  • Natural Resources Canada's CAN-QUEST energy modelling software is a free software application that can help you design an energy efficient building and make sure your design is compliant with the latest energy code.
  • Commissioning ensures that your building and your building systems are operating as intended.

Read Energy efficiency for new buildings and External resources: New buildings to learn more.

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2. Construction phase

Environmental impact, construction materials and construction methods contribute to a building's overall sustainability. Evidence shows that high quality construction practices minimize future maintenance requirements of a building and that investing early in higher energy efficiency is less expensive in the long run. Most buildings have a life span of 50-70 years or moreFootnote 1 so it makes sense to use energy efficient materials, systems and equipment from the start.

Tools you can use:

Read Energy efficiency for new buildings and External resources: New buildings to learn more.

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3. Commissioning phase

The initial commissioning phase, although listed as the third phase, actually begins alongside the design phase, continues through the construction phase, and ends shortly after the operations phase starts. The commissioning process involves careful checking to ensure that all building systems work together as intended, training to ensure that operations staff know how to use all equipment, and planning for the next commissioning process to ensure that efficient operations are maintained throughout the building’s in-service life.

Tools you can use:

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4. Operations and maintenance phase

Get your occupants on board. The majority of energy that your building consumes during its life span will be used during this phase. For this reason, senior management support for a high level of operations and maintenance can yield impressive performance improvements, even if your building was not originally built to a high efficiency standard.

Tools you can use:

  • Getting senior management endorsement as part of your organization's commitment to energy management best practices will help put in place a solid framework for your energy management strategy.
  • Implementing a comprehensive, regular and planned maintenance program will contribute to your organization's cycle of continuous improvement, which will help you to maximize the performance and efficiency of your systems and equipment. For more information on routine maintenance, read Managing energy and operations.
  • Focusing on changing your building occupants’ behaviour through an employee awareness program (Implementing an Energy Efficiency Awareness Program [PDF - 1.2MB]) will reinforce your organization's commitment to responsible energy use.
  • Energy management training is an opportunity you can't afford to miss. An informed and knowledgeable staff can provide a multitude of benefits, including lower operating and production costs.
  • Energy use tracking using energy benchmarking is an important element of your operations and can help you save as much as 15 percent of your energy costs. Our adaptation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool will help you to monitor and track your energy performance.
  • Recommissioning re-optimizes your building's energy performance to obtain comfort and energy savings. See our Recommissioning Guide for Building Owners and Managers.
  • Retrofitting is a substantial improvement to the infrastructure of your existing building to increase its energy efficiency, comfort, safety, health and durability.

Read Energy efficiency for existing buildings and External resources: Existing buildings to learn more.

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5. Deconstruction and decommissioning phase

Eventually, no matter how well-maintained your building is, it will reach the end of its life cycle, but there are still opportunities to be energy efficient during deconstruction and decommissioning. Deconstruction is a method of disassembling a building to safely and efficiently maximize the reuse and recycling of materials. While windows, doors and light fixtures are routinely salvaged as part of standard demolition practices, deconstruction also aims to save and reuse flooring, siding, roofing, and framing where these materials have retained their value.

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We offer tips, techniques and information to make your newexisting or federal building more energy efficient - from the start of its life cycle to the end. By designing your building with environmental impact in mind, using energy efficient materials, commissioning and recommissioning to make sure everything works as intended, you will maximize your efficiency and save money. Continue to explore our entire site to find out more.

Energy management best practices

Energy management best practices

Energy management best practices are based on a structured approach that can be used to manage energy in existing buildings. This approach integrates a variety of elements that are traditionally overlooked. It focuses on more than just investing in technological changes such as retrofits to improve energy performance and recognizes the significant impact that both the culture of an organization and the behaviour of building occupants have on overall energy use.
Benefits to implementing an energy management best practices approach:

  • promotes a continuous cycle of improvement
  • topples the barriers to successful energy management
  • integrates occupant behaviour, organizational culture and technological solutions to manage energy

To learn more, read our Energy management best practices section. You'll find information on our Energy management matrix and Key steps to integrating best practices.

Energy benchmarking

Energy benchmarking

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

Portfolio Manager Access Page

Measure it to manage it. Energy benchmarking is changing the way organizations track and manage their energy use. Buildings that consistently benchmark their energy performance save energy. In a study of over 35,000 buildings from 2008 to 2011, buildings realized savings every year with an average annual savings of 2.4 percent and a total savings of 7.0 percent.Footnote 2

Benefits of energy benchmarking

Understanding your organization's energy consumption is the first place to start when considering any energy efficiency effort. The benefits of energy benchmarking are numerous, including:

  • Establishes a standardized, third-party managed, national system to measure energy use improvement.
  • 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.

To find out more, visit our Energy benchmarking section.

Energy management training

Energy management training

Energy management training is an essential element in your energy management toolbox. However, this important component is often not considered despite the fact that effective training programs pay for themselves many times over through annual energy savings between 4 and 20 percent.Footnote 3

Training offers people of all ranks practical solutions to improve energy efficiency performance in different building types with differing energy needs. It arms participants with a detailed understanding of a variety of topics, including building regulations as well as the technological, organizational and behavioural issues surrounding energy efficiency.

We offer an abundance of training information, including links to other training resources to meet all your energy training needs. Learn more about the business case for energy management training.

Commissioning and recommissioning

Commissioning and recommissioning

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 retrocommissioning and recommissioning are similar processes that may be applied to existing buildings.


Commissioning is a quality management process applied to buildings during their design, construction and operation phases. The commissioning process involves conducting systematic verification and testing of all systems and equipment as they interact with one another and correcting any problems that arise. It also includes staff training and thorough documentation of all systems. Commissioning ensures that the new building will meet its energy efficiency targets by making sure all systems operate as intended.


A building that was not commissioned when it was new can undergo a retrocommissioning process. This is simply the application of the commissioning process to an existing building to improve how building equipment and systems function. Retrocommissioning may help to resolve problems with the original design or construction, or to address problems that have developed over the life of the building.


Recommissioning, or existing building commissioning, is another type of commissioning process that is applied to an existing building. Even if a building was properly commissioned at the outset, new ownership or occupants, new use requirements, renovations including new equipment, and outdated systems can reduce its overall efficiency.

Recommissioning a building periodically throughout its life cycle can help to ensure that a building always operates at peak efficiency.

Ongoing commissioning

After a commissioning or recommissioning project, optimal performance of existing buildings can be maintained through strategies such as ongoing commissioning, which involves a process that ensures the persistence of benefits after commissioning and between each recommissioning cycle. This prevents a building's electromechanical systems from degrading and maintains commissioning and recommissioning benefits.

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