Design Team Interview Questions

Construction, Design, Procurement, Retrofits

The interview is an important time to meet design teams, ask and answer clarifying questions from the request for proposals or qualifications (RFP or RFQ), and discuss initial project goals, such as a zero energy (ZE) building target. When interviewing, allow ample time to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the program. Schedule two to four hours for an in-depth interview to allow time for teams to get to know each other, experience communication styles, hear their in-depth knowledge of ZE, and most of all, ensure that the team has good working chemistry. The agenda could include a problem-solving activity to assess team knowledge and study their communication in action.

Depending on the process, share the interview questions or the topic areas with the teams in advance of the interview to allow for preparation time. Additionally, assign an article or case study to read to introduce an important topic that will be discussed in the interview. Ask teams for references that can attest to their track record of success.

During the interview, allow the design team to present their vision for the project based on the RFP. Following the presentation, provide time for an in-depth question and answer period. Allow the owner to clarify the project goals and the design team to highlight their experience, knowledge, and process that will lead to delivering a project that is on time and on budget.

Key Questions for Design Teams
At a minimum, qualified teams bidding on a ZE design project should be able to answer these questions:

  1. How are your previous ZE or low-energy buildings currently performing? What are the design and operations EUIs of those buildings?
  2. What do you see are the differences between the traditional delivery methods and a ZE delivery method?
  3. Share two or three lessons learned from previous projects that you plan to apply to future projects, including this one.

Energy-related questions often account for a small, but very important, portion of the design team interview for a zero energy building.

Secondary Questions and Further Topics to Consider
In an ideal world, interviewers and design teams would have unlimited time for in-depth conversations on all the topics below, but in practice these conversations usually must cover a wide range of topics in a relatively short time. Use the interview questions below to identify the energy-related questions that are most important to the project. These questions can be included in interviews as time permits. This list of questions is not exhaustive for all projects, so owners should adapt or modify these questions as necessary.

ZE Firm Knowledge

  • Is your firm signed onto the 2030 Challenge?
  • What is your definition of ZE and the associated design philosophy?
  • What can you tell me about the history of your company? How does your company history impact the way you build today?
  • What are the architectural principles regarding energy standards that you feel are essential to reach ZE performance? When do you consider them in the design process?
  • What differences do you see between the traditional delivery methods and a ZE delivery method?
  • How does social equity and diversity contribute to your project delivery process?

ZE Process and Delivery

  • What tools or processes do you use when estimate energy consumption? How accurate have they been?
  • What tools or processes do you use when estimating construction costs? How accurate have they been?
  • How has your firm used lifecycle cost analysis during the design process? What is essential?
  • What site assessments do you perform?
  • How do you align the priorities of the client [with _______ ] to maximize cost efficiency, timelines, and neighborhood relationships?
  • What is an example of a roadblock you ran into when engaging stakeholders in the planning process? What strategy did you use to overcome it?
  • Are you aware of grants and incentives that may be available for the project?

Past Projects

  • How are your previous ZE or low-energy buildings currently performing?
  • Share information regarding a similar project that exemplifies your work. Name 3-5 components that set the project apart from others of its type.
  • Share a moment when you made an energy or cost trade-off to accommodate a larger project goal.
  • Explain a time when you made a design decision that went against the modeling data.
  • What have you learned from past ZE or low energy use buildings?
  • How have you stayed involved with previous projects?
  • What is the average number of change orders you receive on your projects? Share a time when a CO was made based on the architectural specifications that had a significant and unforeseen impact on the project.
  • What was the cost per square foot on previous ZE projects?
  • Share two or three lessons learned from previous projects that you plan to apply to future projects.


  • Do you anticipate concerns with the building code or permitting?
  • Do you have other concerns about the building program and achieving ZE?
  • Are there other considerations we should make in the program to improve performance?
  • What is an essential technology for the project to achieve ZE?
  • Do you see any solutions for taming the duck curve? How can we reduce peak energy loads?
  • Share the opportunities you see for district-scale energy.
  • How do you see your involvement with the building during occupancy?
  • How do you ensure zero energy buildings perform as intended? How would you resolve a higher than designed EUI?


  • Share your past integrated design performance (IDP) experience.
  • Define the relationship between the architect and [owner/construction manager/engineer/other party] and what makes it a successful partnership?
  • Explain a time when you had an inter-discipline dispute and how you solved it.
  • Have you worked with a systems integrator on previous projects?
  • How have you solved design complications concerning third-party rating system requirements?
  • What is essential for the architect-contractor relationship?

Last Updated January 2019.