Step 5. Document the design of the building in plans and specifications

Successful compliance requires the cooperation of many individuals involved in a building project: designers, engineers, architects, builders, building owners, and others.

The code gives specific responsibilities to the applicant and the building official. The DOE Resource Guide—Commercial Buildings for Architects (Resource 1) states the following.

Architects generate the plans and drawings related to the physical and functional characteristics of the building design systems that will be installed. Specifiers (who are often the architects as well) develop detailed specifications for the materials to be used and how those materials and components are to be assembled in making the final building. Contractors need to understand the plans and specifications that the architects provide so they know how to assemble the building from its individual components. As such, they can be confident that the building features called for in the drawings are correctly integrated into the building and that the right equipment, controls, and systems are installed to meet the design specifications.

Who Documents ?

An overall issue with documentation is who is responsible to complete it. It is possible for one individual to provide the documentation if they have all of the required information, and this is fairly common for residential projects. It is more common in commercial construction for the individual specialties to provide documentation for their required sections: building envelope, lighting, mechanical, and SWH. Refer to Table 1 for suggestions on who might complete documentation per code requirement category.

How to Document?

There are two common methods available to document compliance: forms and software-generated reports.


Forms are simply pieces of paper or electronic documents that are completed by the designer to document their design. These forms might be developed by the organization that developed the code,3 by DOE to support the codes,4 or by local jurisdictions.5 Forms can range from simple forms listing the minimum requirements for that climate zone for a simple residential building, to multipart, multipage forms for complex commercial buildings. The basic purpose of forms is to allow the applicant to simply show the appropriate details on the submitted plans and fill out the form, noting insulation levels, efficiencies, and the like.


Software-Generated Reports

Software programs, such as REScheck and COMcheck, can be used to demonstrate compliance for building designs. These software programs may be used to document any of the compliance approaches used within the software.

If energy modeling software is to be used, it is recommended that the code official be asked before starting the modeling process what documentation will be required to demonstrate energy code compliance. At a minimum, all modeling assumptions should be included with the documentation.

Historically, much of the onus for compliance has fallen on the code official to take whatever information is provided and attempt to determine whether the requirements have been met. However, the code official has many of the same challenges as the build community as described elsewhere in this toolkit, most importantly, lack of time and other resources. Some states have begun to put more of the onus on the build community to demonstrate compliance with more detailed documentation. For example, Oregon requires that submitters include details of the location on the plans where compliance with requirements is documented.6

Compliance reports may also be generated by BIM software. See the discussion of BIM and the BIM Topic Brief discussed under "Design a building to meet the requirements of the applicable energy code."

Where Does Documentation Go?

Commercial Buildings for Architects

Compliance documentation must be submitted as part of the plan set to the authority having jurisdiction in order to obtain the necessary permits, etc. It is critical that the documentation be complete and include all of the details required by the code official to determine whether the requirements have been satisfied.


  1. Commercial Buildings for Architects—DOE Resource Guide
  1. See compliance forms for ASHRAE Standards 90.1-1999 through 90.1-2010 developed by ASHRAE.
  2. See compliance forms for ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 and the 2009 IECC developed by DOE for use with state code compliance evaluations. These forms could also be used by designers to show compliance.
  3. See, for example, the Washington State Nonresidential Energy Code Compliance forms. Many other states and local jurisdictions have their own compliance forms.
  4. See detailed compliance instructions for the Oregon commercial energy code
  5. .