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Next Year’s Model

It is an interesting time to be in the building design industry. Combine the growing awareness in sustainability and the technology becoming available to designers, and you have the reason why. For those that have the vision and courage to embrace these changes, the full potential has yet to be defined. With buildings responsible for over 50% of the world’s energy consumption, these changes could help shape the future of the planet.

Ten years ago, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system was in its infancy, and building energy modeling software was just beginning to move from research and development into implementation. Since then, energy modeling has become a virtual necessity for projects seeking LEED certification. One drawback has been that energy modeling required separate data entry of key building information needed to analyze energy use beyond that required by traditional design tools. These extra efforts have meant that energy modeling has been reserved for projects with larger design budgets. It has also meant that energy modeling has been used more to check designs instead of helping to define them. The result? The birth of a cottage industry that provides energy modeling services, keeping these tools largely out of the hands of building designers.

“The goal is that of a complete virtual pre-creation of the building within the software.”

In that same period of time, the tools used by designers to communicate designs underwent significant changes. Ten years ago, CAD meant ‘Computer Aided Drafting’ and had only just become industry standard over hand drafting the decade before. At that time, and still in most applications today, CAD software simply allowed designers to reflect their designs with ‘dummy’ lines and objects representing building elements and parts. Since then software developers have been molding their products more towards ‘Computer Aided Design’ tools where the software recognizes those parts. This change has come largely from a desire for better space coordination in order to reduce construction conflicts and to help size system components such as ducts, feeders, and pipes. Today, software developers are pursuing a new concept known as BIM (Building Information Modeling). The BIM concept takes the ‘Computer Aided Design’ idea one step further by linking all inputted information as real world objects and providing designers with a building information management tool. The goal is that of a complete virtual pre-creation of the building within the software.

With all this development, what if information could be extracted from CAD/BIM software and imported into energy load/modeling software, thus saving time doing load take-offs? In 2000, the California Energy Commission funded the creation of GbXML (Green Building Extensible Mark-Up Language) in order to facilitate a link. Many CAD/BIM and energy modeling/load software makers have accepted GbXML as the solution, and the design industry at large is just beginning to catch on.

Imagine a design process where energy impact is constantly being tweaked back and forth between architect and engineer through software and what this might mean to the way we build. Imagine a project whose life cycle costs can be projected in firmer numbers more convincing for financial investors, opening the door for a new approach to lending such as Energy Efficient Mortgages. While all of us in the industry are just beginning to get our hands around these changes and learn these new tools, the change is coming fast. This is the state of our art.

– Bryan C. Smith, PE, LEED AP

Bryan is a Licensed Mechanical Engineer, LEED Accredited Professional, and Board Member of the USGBC Central Pennsylvania Chapter. Please feel free to contact Bryan for further details regarding the above information.