Designing Sustainability with Building Information Modeling (BIM)


Sustainability isn’t a trend, it’s an imperative. Traditionally, sustainability centers around protecting the natural environment and its resources. With respect to construction, however, there’s more to it than that.

This is because it’s not enough that the structures themselves and their materials be sustainable. The technology and processes involved in building such structures should also proactively work to support sustainability. Where that’s especially apparent is in major capital projects that require vast amounts of resources and energy to construct and maintain. That’s where building information modeling (BIM) can help.

BIM’s relationship with sustainability begins during the critical design stage and continues throughout construction and beyond into the operational stage. The design stage is perhaps the most important, however, as this is not only where BIM’s greatest benefits can be realized but a phase that will impact the entire progress and performance of the project going forward.


Virtually building the structure to explore design alternatives

With construction projects being a prime source for greenhouse gas emissions and construction waste and our need to reduce both, BIM’s ability to help curb this type of environmental impact couldn’t come at a better time. For one, the technology allows you to experiment with the environmental friendliness and composition of different materials to be used for a project, as well as how feasible they are from a cost and procurement perspective. That way, only the most viable environmentally-friendly options will be selected.


Visually ‘seeing’ the model within the project’s planned surroundings

Seeing the virtual model of a building within its proposed surroundings before ground has been broken gives you a chance to evaluate how it interacts with the environment. First, there’s the impact it can have on the surrounding area. Does it create obstructions? How does it impact any nearby natural habitats? What systems have to be constructed within the surroundings to supply water, ventilation and electrical systems?

Second, BIM allows for the exploration of how the environment can impact the structure itself, and this is most likely going to matter more during the operational phase. For example, the direction of the sun can influence design decisions concerning where to place solar panels in supplying renewable power to the building.


Creating an optimized indoor environment

Beyond the external environment, BIM plays a role in helping design an interior that’s conducive to a healthier work/play/living environment for occupants. In the same way it’s used to select more sustainable materials for construction, it can also be used to explore options for interior spaces. For example, you might explore questions like how can the structure’s design take better advantage of natural light? Are the materials used in the occupied spaces free of toxins, as with low or zero VOC paints and carpet treatments? What are the most efficient systems for ventilation, temperature and lighting that will positively impact its occupants? How do those systems integrate with each other?


Using data linked to each BIM model component for precise procurement

Each piece of data helps create a precise BIM model. And as it’s being virtually built during the design phase, BIM automatically tallies the quantities that go into the estimate. Using that estimate, the procurement team is able to derive a more accurate inventory list of all the resources to be ordered. That translates into less waste from material overages or incorrect materials that wind up being discarded.

And it’s also at this design phase that BIM streamlines the post-handover phase. Those same component data links also hold specific information on preventive maintenance, repair record, and longevity that can be used in planning with the operational phase in mind. These key pieces of detail can not only contribute to a more proactive upkeep of all systems but even help the building function beyond its estimated lifespan.


Detecting clashes early to save rework and material waste

A major contributor to construction waste is rework. Fortunately, BIM is uniquely capable of helping keep the amount of substantial rework at bay. Again, at the design stage, a BIM 3D model can show areas where there are potential clashes, whether it’s behind a wall, above a ceiling or below a floor. Detecting such hazards before they’ve been built into the structure can prevent unnecessary deconstruction, repair, disposal of the impacted materials, and reordering of new materials to redo the work.


Working toward a more sustainable design with multi-discipline collaboration

BIM functions as a collaborative tool to support early and ongoing involvement of various disciplines all working toward a more sustainable design. This technology has transparency at its core in terms of the ability to see into all dimensions of the model and access the data associated with each component of the structure. These combine to give project team members a better understanding of how the structure is built, what it looks like and what will be going into the building of it.

But that collaboration also extends to the project owner. The same transparency afforded by BIM allows the contractor, owner and other key stakeholders to make informed, collaborative decisions on the preferred or most sustainable materials, equipment and systems for the project. This is particularly important if there is intent for earning leadership in energy and environmental design, or LEED, certification.


Designing components that can be prefabricated offsite

BIM’s design precision is what makes offsite prefabrication possible. Its ability to pattern mini models — from something as small as a door or window to a portion of an HVAC system — means those items can be manufactured elsewhere in a more controlled environment than the actual jobsite. Once those components are completed, each whole unit can be installed in place. The result? Less material waste and the debris pollution that normally stirred up during onsite construction of those items is eliminated.

Digital transformation is proving itself to be a game changer in construction, and certainly in the industry’s transition to a more sustainable way of building. InEight virtual design and construction modeling is helping construction companies in their proactive efforts to incorporate sustainable processes and materials into their projects — with more accuracy, cost efficiency and control. Interested in learning more? We’re happy to guide you through a demo.

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