2010 Flex Energy for Buildings

Flex Energy for Buildings is a simple design support process (checklists, design patterns, and suggestions) that helps you and your team design buildings with the flexibility to adapt to the changing shape of energy in the 21st century — because your design decisions today can make adapting to this change easy and affordable, or needlessly difficult and expensive.

Flexibility is no accident. If you aren’t designing in the ability to accommodate these low carbon energy technologies, you may be inadvertently designing them out. And buildings that cannot easily and affordably adapt are likely to become burdens to the owners and their communities.

In 2010  the Flex Energy process was adopted by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) for Colorado.

Colorado CHPS awards buildings additional points if they complete the Flex Energy Checklist and submit site and roof plans with a “Flex Energy Layer” describing keep-out areas, etc.
Flex Energy Handbook
Flex Energy for Buildings Handbook describes the process and provides an overview of a the key energy technologies building design teams should consider.
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The Flex Energy Workbook is an interactive PDF that guides teams through each technology, calculates the basic equations (when needed), and allows the team to briefly describe how a future team might retrofit a particular technology. It is a guidebook, checklist, and simple report form all-in-one.


Here’s a working example from the Bethke Elementary School in northern Colorado designed by RB+B Architects of Fort Collins, Colorado. Their Flex documentation package consists of these 3 files.

1. The filled out Flex Energy Worksheet.

2. The project’s site plan with the additional Flex layer.

3. The building’s roof plan with the additional Flex layer.

Very simple. Very fast. Very effective.

Background: In 2008, I was working with the Colorado State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service to help identify public buildings that might benefit by switching to wood heat (biomass). We found many buildings that seemed like good candidates – high price heating fuel and easy access to wood chips, wood pellets, or cordwood.

However, most of these projects didn’t pencil-out because the retrofit costs were too high. The most common reasons were that boiler rooms were located in difficult to modify places (e.g. in the middle of the building on the second floor), or that there was no way for wood fuel to be conveniently delivered to the building (e.g. the right size truck could only make deliveries when the parking lot was empty after hours).

So I developed a simple checklist to help building design teams to add the flexibility to retrofit their building with wood heat at some point in the future.

In 2010, the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office decided to take the Flex Energy idea to the next level and have it include several other low-carbon energy technologies include photovoltaic (PV), ground source heat pumps (GSHP), thermal energy storage (TES), and district energy.