Software for sustainable design

John Porter, Director of Marketing Success at Graphisoft UK Ltd., tells us how digital technologies can enable sustainable design

How can digital technologies enable sustainable design?

This is a well-known statistic which, according to the UK Green Building Council, the built environment is responsible for around 40% of UK carbon emissions. In addition, around 50% of the sector’s emissions come from buildings in use, heating, lighting and air conditioning.

In recent years, industry has started to make progress in reducing its carbon emissions, for example in the design of modern offices that meet or exceed LEED or WELL energy standards, low carbon schools, and Social housing programs designed according to Passivhaus standards.

However, if the UK has any chance of meeting its pledge to reach net zero by 2050, there is still a lot to be done, and faster.

The value of passive design

RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge was developed to help architects achieve lifetime net zero carbon for new and retrofit buildings by 2030.

As the examples above show, passive design approaches, combined with sustainably and locally sourced materials, can help reduce CO2 emissions.

Solutions for shading, supply air pre-cooling, night purge, natural ventilation, airtightness, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), insulation, avoidance thermal bridging, passive solar gain and exploitation of internal heat sources can all be used.

Make the most of the sun

If possible, a building should be positioned to take full advantage of the sun as it moves throughout the day. This requires less equipment to achieve indoor thermal comfort through mechanical or electrical heating or cooling.

Shading systems such as louvers, balconies and overhangs can be incorporated into the design of the building facade in several ways, using a range of materials. There are online resources that have solar angle calculators such as the solar electricity manual.

Natural ventilation and water recovery

Natural ventilation is the movement of air throughout the building without the need for mechanical strategies such as fans and extractors. Using operable windows and doors to take advantage of prevailing winds, as well as sky courts and atriums, helps prevent overheating. For successful natural ventilation, the higher the ceiling levels the better, as the air becomes cooler at occupants’ head level.

When designing sustainable buildings, rainwater harvesting is a fundamental design decision that is often overlooked. Rainwater must be collected, purified and used for gray water in the building.

Take a fabric-first approach

There’s been a lot of talk about taking a fabric first approach and choosing materials. Availability and performance are the main factors to consider while favoring recyclable, energy-efficient and low-cost materials.

When considering material choices for sustainable buildings, it is important to consider both thermal mass – the ability to store thermal energy – and the carbon footprint of the material. The BRE website includes a comprehensive guide to sustainable products and materials.

Software for sustainable design

There are a number of tools that can help architects and engineers with design, calculations and decision making.

Tools such as Graphisoft’s Energy Rating, included with Archicad, can be used in the early stages of design to run multiple simulations before the complete building has been modeled. It can also be used later to check insulation thickness, perform thermal analysis, verify best use of materials, etc.

With a comprehensive catalog of materials and construction properties, Energy Evaluation is designed to help undertake energy consumption calculations to prepare the model for full external certification.

When looking for software to help you with this, the key questions to ask are:

  • Is the software easy to use?
  • How well does it integrate or work together with other software?
  • Can it render high quality images?
  • Can it render in real time?
  • Can it do native thermal simulations?
  • Does it do daylight analysis?

Graphisoft’s EcoDesigner STAR extension, available for all Archicad customers, allows you to perform a complete analysis. Users can create multiple reports from the same model and compare changes and revisions to inform and explain design decisions.

EcoDesigner STAR also offers:

  1. Export of BIM geometry and thermal properties data.
  2. Thermal bridge simulation.
  3. Expert build systems settings.
  4. Renewable energy on site.
  5. Building energy simulation using a standards-compliant analysis engine.
  6. Energy performance of thermal blocks.
  7. Classification of the energy performance of the building.

For those who choose to use different software for certifications, it is also simple to export directly from Archicad to third-party software.

sustainable design

Design for the future

There is no doubt that the ambition to create more sustainable buildings and reduce energy consumption throughout the built environment is a challenge.

Additionally, there is no “one size fits all” approach and it is important to consider different options to meet sustainability requirements and goals.

However, by adopting the strategies described above, with the help of digital tools, it is possible to design and construct buildings that are both environmentally friendly and comfortable.

*Please note: This is a contributor profile.

Pelin Haynes

Professional Services Advisor

Graphisoft UK Ltd.

Tel: +44 (0)1895 527590

[email protected]

Twitter: @GraphisoftFR