What is Building Performance and Simulation

 When used appropriately, building performance simulation has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of the built environment, to improve indoor quality and productivity, as well as to facilitate future innovation and technological progress in construction. Since publication of the first edition of Building Performance Simulation for Design and Operation, the discussion has shifted from a focus on software features to a new agenda, which centres on the effectiveness of building performance simulation in building life cycle processes.

A new round of simulation tools puts the power of building-performance analysis—long the domain of engineers and energy consultants—into the hands of architects. 

Predicting a building's post-occupancy performance early in the design process gives teams the greatest opportunities to optimize a project and understand which decisions will have a significant impact on carbon footprint. Generally speaking, tools that provide real-time feedback and order-of-magnitude comparisons are best suited for the conceptual and schematic design phases, given the rate of design changes. In later phases of the design process, accuracy takes precedence over immediacy as a building becomes more defined.

In the past, designers seeking performance-analysis software had to sacrifice accuracy for ease of use. High-end simulation engines, such as DOE-2.2 and EnergyPlus, required a lot of detailed information and time to compute—two things that are in short supply in the early design phases. Recognizing these constraints, several software companies have developed tools and plug-ins that integrate almost seamlessly into existing BIM software and facilitate early-and-often checks on building performance. Below are five such products to consider for your next project.

Vabi Software provides a suite of apps for calculating and visualizing a project’s environmental, financial, and programmatic performance. The Thermal Comfort Optimizer calculates ideal heating and cooling set points for each room in a building, while the Daylight Ratio Evaluator calculates the amount of daylight a space is receiving and highlights rooms that do not meet requirements. The Energy Assessor, which is forthcoming, estimates the project’s monthly and yearly energy use and costs.

Results from all of the developer's apps are summarized on a single interface, Vabi's building performance dashboard, which tallies an overall score based on each criteria for a project. While Vabi Apps do not provide as much detail as some of the other products listed here, their affordability and ease of use are a plus.

Green Building Studio (GBS) is available as a standalone cloud-based service or as part of Revit’s add-on Energy Analysis tools. Using the DOE-2.2 analysis engine, this service provides a very detailed analysis and, as a cloud service, runs quickly on Autodesk’s servers.

Ordinarily, the DOE-2.2 engine requires a thorough description of a building’s envelope and mechanical systems. However, GBS makes assumptions for many of these parameters using ASHRAE standards, allowing architects to focus on the design areas that have the most significance on the building’s overall energy footprint without getting bogged down in technical details. In addition to calculating energy consumption, electricity use, and annual carbon emissions, GBS also estimates the building’s Energy Star score, points for glazing factor and water credits for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system, and solar energy potential.

One downside to the cloud-based approach is that the analysis is provided in a report format rather than interactively in the model itself. However, the GBS report viewer does allow for side-by-side comparisons of simulation results.

Green Building Studio estimates a project's heating and cooling loads.
Michael KilkellyGreen Building Studio estimates a project's heating and cooling loads.
Green Building Studio breaks down several building performance metrics.
Michael KilkellyGreen Building Studio breaks down several building performance metrics.

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