Energy Modeling at Forefront of Sustainable Construction
As consumers and business owners strive to make changes that shrink carbon footprints and reduce utility costs, energy efficiency is becoming integral to the construction industry. While contractors can utilize energy-efficient building materials and practices, it’s challenging to assess exactly how energy-efficient a building will be once complete — especially for retrofitting projects that will improve existing properties.
Energy modeling is a relatively new technology that is taking its place at the forefront of the sustainable construction industry. What is energy modeling, and how is it shaping eco-friendly construction?
The Department of Energy describes energy modeling as a software-based simulation program that contractors can use to determine how efficient a building will be after construction or retrofitting.
The simulation relies on a number of different variables — from the geometry of the building to the materials used in construction. It also looks at installed equipment such as HVAC systems, lighting, water, and other components that could affect the structure’s energy efficiency.
With the input of all this data into the computer simulation, the program can run calculations to determine how much energy the building will use, from short-term projections on an hourly or daily basis to annual outlooks.
Energy and Information Modeling
Energy efficiency isn’t the only thing subjected to digital modeling in the construction industry. Business information modeling predates modern computer systems. It started back in the 1970s when different business sectors realized they needed a more efficient way to communicate amongst themselves when managing a project.
Today, as technology has improved, digital simulations can be used for a variety of purposes, from improving worker safety to conducting structural stress tests. One key benefit is simulating the potential impact of an earthquake on a structure before contractors break ground.
This sort of collaborative digital modeling can prevent costly problems from occurring by predicting them before construction begins. In the case of earthquake simulations, it could save lives by determining whether a specific material or building technique is appropriate for the building’s final location.
Why Is Energy-Efficient Construction Essential?
The residential and commercial sectors accounted for 40% of U.S. energy consumption in 2018 — most of that in building and running buildings.
With climate change on everyone’s mind, reducing energy usage in this sector is a significant opportunity for improvement. In 2017, the U.N. stated that the built environment’s energy intensity will have to improve by 30% in the next 10 years to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
With the demand for new buildings increasing, one way to tackle the issue is to embrace green building. Energy-efficient construction can reduce the amount of power that a building uses, and thus lessen its carbon footprint and make the structure more environmentally friendly.
Energy-efficient construction reduces both short-term and long-term costs, especially when paired with energy modeling software. In the short term, energy-efficient designs qualify building owners for energy tax credits. In the long term, energy-efficient buildings cost less, reducing utility bills because they need less energy to function.
Adding a New Dimension
Looking at an energy model prior to the physical construction enables planners to assess ways to improve the energy efficiency of the proposed structure. Often, however, a 2D representation isn’t enough to represent the whole picture.
Pairing a 3D model with augmented reality can make the digital model much more realistic, allowing engineers, architects, and future building owners to walk through the proposed structure before the first contractor breaks ground.
This tool is especially advantageous when retrofitting existing buildings, allowing people to walk through the rooms and see the changes that are necessary to make older structures more energy efficient. The technology can make spaces easier to picture, especially for older structures that might have been completed long before the age of sustainable construction.
The Future of Energy Modeling
Energy modeling is a fairly new technology. As the need and demand for energy efficiency grows, however, it will likely become a more commonly employed tool. Having the ability to model the exact short and long-term energy use of a structure will become invaluable.
The construction industry is at the beginning of its move toward more eco-friendly methods. The future of the sector will be shaped by innovative tools like these, including tech advances yet to come. Companies that are interested in thriving in this industry should consider adopting these technologies and tools now.
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.