Zero Energy Certification

Zero Energy Certification

Zero energy is recognized worldwide as one of the highest aspirations in energy performance in the built environment. The International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Zero Energy Building (ZEB) Certification™ was created to allow projects to demonstrate zero energy performance, building an advanced cohort of projects with the integrity of third-party performance certification. This program, the only international zero energy certification:

  • certifies that the building is truly operating as claimed, harnessing energy from the sun, wind or earth to produce net annual energy demand through a third-party audit of actual performance data
  • provides a case study platform for your project to inform and accelerate other zero energy efforts throughout the world
  • celebrates a significant accomplishment, and differentiates both the building and those responsible for its success in this quickly evolving market

The ILFI Zero Energy Standard is as follows:

One hundred percent of the building’s energy needs on a net annual basis must be supplied by on-site renewable energy. No combustion is allowed.

Certification is based on actual, not modeled, performance.  Complete documentation requirements can be seen here. (Please note that these documentation requirements are provided for information only —actual certification documentation occurs on the ILFI online platform).

There are a number of ZEB Certification exceptions, related to use of offsetting offsite renewables, on-site combustion, and other circumstances. These exceptions, and associated required documentation, are found in the online Dialogue (available to registered projects – see below), as well as the Energy Petal Handbook.

Left: David & Lucille Packard Foundation Headquarters Right: Ideas Z2 Design Facility (Image 2 of 2)
Left: David & Lucille Packard Foundation Headquarters Right: Ideas Z2 Design Facility (Image 2 of 2) Left: David & Lucille Packard Foundation Headquarters Right: Ideas Z2 Design Facility

How the certification process works

Registering your project signals your intent to build and certify your project as zero energy.  Projects are encouraged to register as early in the development/occupancy process as possible.  When you register your building, you’ll gain access to a variety of support resources, along with the opportunity to connect with industry leaders from around the world.  Registering your project requires ILFI Premium Membership ($150), as well as a $250 registration fee.


• Access to the Living Building Challenge Community Dialogue, the official venue to request feedback on proposed strategies for meeting certification requirements.
• Monthly Project Team Calls.
• Access to the Living Future Network, a global community of industry leaders.
• Recognition as a Living Building Challenge or Zero Energy Building registered project.

  1. Process your Premium Membership with ILFI.
  2. Log into the Living Future Community and scroll down to the ‘Register’ section, then select ‘New Zero Energy Project’.
  3. Schedule a kick-off call with your project team and ILFI’s energy program staff to discuss best practices for certification at

Once registered, a project team can begin organizing and submitting documentation on the ILFI online platform. Complete documentation requirements can be seen below:

(Please note that these documentation requirements are provided for information only – actual certification documentation occurs on the ILFI online platform).  Once you have twelve consecutive months of performance data demonstrating your project achieves net zero energy, you are eligible to complete the submission of your project for audit and certification.

At the time of submittal for certification, prior to the commencement of the audit, certification fees are also paid. Certification fees are as follows:


Single Family Residential $1,250
Commercial, Institutional and Multi-family Residential $2,000

3. Audit

Once your documentation is uploaded, Living Building Challenge Certification Staff will review it to ensure that it is complete, before passing it off to an independent third-party auditor for review.

4. Documentation

If the auditor determines the project performs at zero energy and meets ILFI requirements, it will be certified.  A beautiful offset print certification document, suitable for framing, or a stainless and glass plaque are available for purchase.

ILFI has a range of certifications which are accelerating a renewably powered, fossil fuel free future.  The attributes of each are as follows:

More information on Zero Carbon certification

More information on Living and Petal certification

We’re here to help. We often create fee-for-service, customized technical assistance packages to match a project’s needs during the design phases.

Premium Options for Project Teams:
• Consulting
• Charrettes
• Technical Consulting with LBC Staff

+ View Technical Assistance Options

View energy-related ILFI Trim Tab blog content

Additional details, clarifications, and exceptions to certification requirements can be seen in the Energy Petal Handbook, available for purchase.

+ Zero Energy Building FAQ


Net Zero Energy projects save money. Renewables are increasingly more accessible, and many cities now offer subsidies or rebates for buildings that are powered by solar. Here are a few areas that we work with:

For a more comprehensive list of renewable energy and energy efficiency rebates by state, please visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency®.

New Energy Petal and Zero Energy Building Certification exception allowing offsite renewables in specific cases.

There are three specific circumstances where net zero energy performance is not feasible:

  • Buildings which have either a very high energy intensity or project density, where even with the highest levels of efficiency are not able to offset their energy use on site;
  • Tenant improvements, where the project owner does not control the exterior of the building and energy production is not feasible; and
  • Certain areas where the local grid cannot accommodate the renewables created by the project.

We have worked with several potential projects where these circumstances apply and believe that there needs to be a pathway for project teams to strive to achieve the highest in energy performance within these limitations. As a result, we now offer a new exception  that broadens the range of projects that can be certified. This new pathway still maintains the very highest aspiration and rigor, at a level similar to other Energy Petal and Zero Energy Building Certified projects.

Do you still have questions about Zero Energy Certification? Take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions page to see if we can help clarify any points.