Decisions made early in the building design process can have dramatic impacts on the building’s energy performance. Is the building oriented to take full advantage of solar rays to maximize daylight while reducing unwanted solar heat gain? Will those more expensive double-glazed windows pay off? As Joseph Romm famously said of building design, by the time “1% of the project’s up-front costs are spent, up to 70% of its life-cycle costs may already be committed.” In other words, a building’s design team, which only plays a role in the early phases of a building’s lifecycle, has significant control over the building’s long-term performance.
In the nearly 12 years that the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building certification has been administered, energy efficient design has been highly dependent on specialized designers that are able to integrate design software, such as Autodesk’s Building Information Modeling (BIM) suite, with energy modeling tools, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s eQUEST tool. To date, the process has been largely one-directional: a design team submits its completed design to a team of energy engineers, who redraw the blueprints in eQUEST and model energy performance. By the time the design is submitted to the engineering team, however, most of the key decisions have been made, and little can be done to tweak the design to improve energy efficiency. I recall from my days as a LEED and energy efficiency design consultant the frustration of being engaged in the design process too late to drive true energy efficient design.
So Long Redrawing
Now, however, building design and building performance is becoming a two-way street with Autodesk’s Revit 2014 software release. This latest version now encompasses building performance analysis (BPA) features, which help design teams iterate between building design scenarios and their implications on energy performance. Such capability not only allows design teams to make better-informed decisions about energy efficiency in the early stages of the design process, but it also reduces considerable labor costs on the back end because it allows design teams to export the digital blueprints to energy modeling environments such as eQUEST without redrawing, which can be a time-consuming process.
Jonathan Rowe, Sustainable Buildings Program Manager at Autodesk, sees this as a major step forward for the building industry as a whole. “One major pain point design teams face is getting rapid feedback on the energy performance of their planning decisions early in the process,” he told me when I spoke with him recently. “Energy Analysis for Autodesk Revit 2014 is a cloud-based solution that aims to provide this kind of actionable feedback in minutes rather than hours, making sustainability assessment a routine part of any project delivery.”
Given that Autodesk’s energy efficiency software is used to design many of today’s high-performance buildings, this level of interoperability will help facilitate the design of more efficient buildings and integrate energy efficiency into building design – from the outset.