This fact sheet outlines the importance of resilience for building owners, operators, and occupants, and the role that energy efficiency and onsite energy can play in strengthening the case resiliency for building owners.

The Efficiency-Resilience Nexus


What is Resilience?

Resilience (sometimes referred to as “resiliency”) has been defined broadly as “the ability to resist being affected by an event or the ability to return to an acceptable level of performance in an acceptable period of time after being affected by an event closing.

The importance of resilience will only increase into the future, with increased frequency of extreme weather events—including heat waves, wildfire, and coastal storms—projected to occur as a result of climate change.

In the event of a disaster or extreme event, the benefits of energy efficient buildings can extend far beyond cost savings. Buildings designed to be energy efficient and/or store or produce energy onsite offer a greater level of protection to the people and operations they house.

How Do Energy Efficiency and Onsite Energy Contribute to Resilience?

Energy efficiency measures contribute to resilience in a number of ways (see Call Out Box):

uuIncreased Passive Survivability

Energy efficiency increases the passive survivability of buildings—the ability of buildings to maintain habitable conditions in the event of a heating/cooling

system loss. Efficient buildings, especially those that incorporate passive design characteristics such as green roofs or passive solar heating, stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This increased level of passive protection can allow individuals to shelter in place during an adverse event, potentially reducing morbidity and mortality. This is particularly important for residential buildings. It is also relevant for public buildings that might serve as community relief centers during adverse events.

uuLong-Lasting Backup Power from Distributed Generation

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During a power outage, backup power (e.g., batteries, onsite solar, generators, or combined heat and power [CHP]) allows for continuity of operations and building habitability. The Better Buildings Initiative has published an to using distributed generation to build resilience, and previously ran an to build critical infrastructure resilience through CHP.

Energy efficiency measures are a powerful complement to onsite energy generation and storage, as they can significantly reduce the necessary size and cost of installing backup power systems, and can increase the reliability of existing backup power in serving critical loads.1 This is of particular relevance for commercial and industrial customers, for whom the economic impacts of a loss of power tend to be significantly greater than for residential customers.2

EE and Onsite Generation: Value in Good Times and Bad

Energy Efficiency Efficiency with Onsite Generation/Storage
During normal grid/fuel supply operations Reduced likelihood of demand spikes that can lead to service disruptions Lower costs for total energy required Greater comfort, higher indoor air quality Deeper cost savings – reduced demand charges, sale of excess power to grid Support Renewable Energy targets/goals Further reduced likelihood of service disruptions due to demand spikes Provision of grid services (e.g., economic demand response, ancillary services)
During a grid outage/fuel shortage event Passive survivability Continuity of energy services

uuLower Risk of Grid Overload

Decreased demand may decrease the likelihood of electricity grid failures or natural gas transmission constraints during extreme events (e.g., heat waves or winter storms ) that drive peak demand beyond system capacity.3 In the electric power system, this can happen when demand rises across large areas connected by high-capacity transmission lines, but also if demand spikes in a small community using the same distribution infrastructure.4 In 2006, a record-breaking heat wave in California spiked energy demand to levels beyond system capacity, leaving hundreds of thousands of customers without power during one of the hottest periods on record.5

uuLower Exposure to Event-Driven Price Spikes

Efficient buildings reduce the energy consumer impact of event-driven (e.g., heat wave, cold snap) price spikes on power and heating fuel. In 2014, after the Polar Vortex event caused a spike in natural gas prices, the average customer of one gas utility in Illinois saw monthly bills increase by 57 percent.6 Simple efficiency measures can have major benefits in insulating firms and individuals from such major price swings.

Taking Action

There is increasing recognition by authorities and community leaders across the U.S. of the importance of building community and energy system resilience to a range of hazards. New York City established an Office of Resiliency and Recovery in 2014, for example, and the Department of Homeland Security established official principles of resilience in 2017.7

The Cohousing and Ecovillage community in Belfast Maine was constructed with energy-efficient principles of passive survivability in mind, including triple-paned glass, optimized passive heating from sunlight, heavily insulated airtight envelopes, and solar panels. During a 2013 ice storm that led to a five-day loss of power and heat, residents with efficient housing were able to stay comfortably in their homes, while homes in neighboring communities saw rapidly falling indoor temperatures within 24 hours.


Tools for Building Resilience through Efficiency



Visit the Better Buildings Solution Center Resilience page at to access a range of resources to help building owners and managers move forward towards increased resilience.


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