Sunday, January 11, 2009

Making Green Make Cents with BIM

Last Friday and Saturday I had two separate conversations with BIM (Revit) masters. Friday's conversation was with Jay Dougherty, Microsol Resources and Saturday's conversation was with a fellow Twitterer (whom I just met Saturday also), Gregory Arkin, Cadd Centers. BIM for those who don't know, stands for Building Information Modeling, and the main program 'doing' this is Revit, by AutoDesk. I have a bit of experience with it, i.e.: tip of the iceberg experience, having been trained at the basic level two years ago. I do recognize the power of the program however, and always have (even if I admit I kicked and screamed a bit at first -learning a new program can be painful). The potential it has is unparalleled, because when working with it, you are literally and figuratively building the building in 3-d; any other computer drafting program is really now nothing more than 2-d lines on paper.

BIM Will Revolutonize Green Design
My conversations with both Jay and Gregory opened my eyes to just how incredibly powerful this program is. Revit can do more than just building your building in 3-d. And it can do more than do precise take-offs for cost-estimating the building (which it does, so no more rule of thumb bids -you can price a building to the penny). It can also model the building -and I am talking way more than the pretty picture modeling architects like. Revit, in concert with a few key plug-in programs (IES and Ecotec) can perform detailed building science modeling, such as energy use (electric, HVAC), carbon footprint analysis, natural daylight analysis, sun and shading analysis per building orientation, thermal envelope analysis of floor/wall/roof system, water use, and modeling far beyond this I am sure.

Currently, we can do this kind of modeling, but it's all a different program and done by someone else; i.e.: we have several separate models, pretty much all disconnected and not necessarily playing well with other programs. And to boot, generally all this kind of modeling isn't done. Why? It usually requires a different consultant for each model, which means additional services, which means more money and etc. etc. etc. So valuable information which could be gleaned isn't, and instead it is building as usual, rules of thumb and so forth; we're still living in flat world.

Now, think about having all this information -energy/resource use, daylighting levels, building envelope thermal attributes and etc., contained in one model, accessible by all consultants. Everyone can access the same model and everyone can have the same information at their fingertips and everyone, everyone, knows how the building works, breathes, lives. You can also have various design models to compare within the one model. Do we want this kind of insulation and this kind of window system with this HVAC system or that HVAC system? Model it. Analyze it. Find out your payback. Just click a button. Okay, maybe a few buttons. But it completely shifts each consultant's connection to the building design -it is now true integrated design; now we're living in round world.

Making Cents
Does Revit and the add-on programs mentioned cost more than the basic computer drafting programs in use today? Yes. But note the key word -drafting. The other programs out there today, such as AutoCAD, do not possess the power BIM does. They are in comparison, drafting programs, literally, drawing with pencil on vellum. You have little clue about how the building -a living, breathing entity, works with a drafting program. But when you consider the information contained in the one Revit model, the modeling capabilities and the fact that we will be designing more efficiently and more integratively, it doesn't make cents not to go with BIM. With BIM, we will be making green make cents.

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