Building Energy Standards

Cornell’s building energy standards can help to avoid thousands of tons of emissions...

Building Energy Standards is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Integrate Building Energy Standards and energy modeling into the building design, review, and approval process in order to maximize energy efficiency.

Goal: Cornell continues to refine its energy efficiency standards for campus buildings to reduce laboratory and office energy use by 30 - 50% over the energy-code-compliant baseline American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1. Our goal is to establish aggressive, but achievable goals for each major project and incorporate these goals as contractual obligations into architectural and engineering agreements. Coupled with an aggressive space management program, Cornell’s building energy standards can help the university avoid over 10,000 metric tons (CO2 equivalent) of emissions annually.

The 2009 Climate Action Plan (CAP) mandated that the university adopt a well-defined energy modeling protocol and energy standards by building type to ensure that future construction on campus would be optimized to Cornell’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program and also achieve a minimum of a 30% reduction in building energy use as compared with the industry standard (ASHRAE 90.1). The target in the 2009 CAP was established through a careful review of recent Cornell construction projects and comparison with benchmarks used elsewhere.

In 2013, Cornell’s Facilities Engineering Department updated two campus-wide standards, “Energy Guidelines” and “Energy Modeling Guidelines” to standardize and more fully explain Cornell’s energy requirements for buildings on campus. Cornell’s Design and Construction Standards are found at the following URL: These guidelines set aggressive goals that require innovation, design discipline, and steady enforcement by our project management teams.

“Energy Use Intensity” (EUI) goals are now being incorporated into architectural and engineering agreements for all our major building projects. Standard EUI units are expressed in terms of BTUs per square foot per year. Each new building and major renovation on campus has a unique EUI, depending on how the building will be used. On average laboratories use 5-10 times more energy than dormitories on a per square foot basis. Cornell’s goals are generally 150 kBTU/ft2/year for lab buildings and 50 kBTU/ft2/ year for offices and classrooms. When compared to a business-as-usual approach, Cornell’s building energy standards can help the university to avoid thousands of metric tons of emissions.

Next Steps

  • Continue to refine the modeling process, particularly early in design. Standard modeling techniques are not well suited for evaluating energy performance at the conceptual stage of design. We will work to develop better modeling tools or better ways to adapt the tools we have for evaluating building massing and envelopes. This will ensure that energy modeling done at the conceptual design stage is a meaningful indicator of future energy performance.
  • Consistently implement our building energy standards.
  • Refine our target goals to keep them aggressive and achievable. We will continue to benchmark our targets against the performance of the best buildings on our campus and elsewhere.
  • Track modeled energy use and actual performance of recent buildings.


Energy modeling software is improving, and we may be able to hire a third-party consultant to refine how the modeling is done, standardize the assumptions being made, and improve the accuracy of modeling predictions.