IES Virtual Environment 5.9 (Cadalyst Labs Review)31 Oct, 2008 By: Jerry Laiserin
Software conducts comprehensive performance analysis for all levels and phases of building design.
Back in the good old days, when energy costs hovered around $30 per barrel of petroleum, I was a panelist in a round-table discussion about the future of model-based building design software. A question arose concerning cultural and organizational changes that would be necessary for model-based building design processes to become more widely adopted. Expected answers among the panelists concerned issues such as reallocation of risks and rewards among AEC project participants, shifts in legal frameworks for design and construction contracts and dispute resolution, and more collaborative and better integrated project delivery methods. My response, offered only half in jest, was "$60-a-barrel oil."
As I'd intended, my remark evoked general laughter among attendees — initially at the sheer absurdity and implausibility of oil costs ever soaring that high. But the laughter also contained a nervous undercurrent of recognition that any significant shift in the economics of energy or construction surely would render untenable and nonviable the traditional way of doing AEC business — what I call legacy design and construction (LDC), as opposed to model-based virtual design and construction (VDC).
At this writing, oil costs have soared to previously inconceivable levels far more than my $60-per-barrel witticism, and I often encounter folks who recall my remarks and blame me for predicting this catastrophic rise in energy costs. In reality, my goal then, as now, was to point out that market sensitivity to energy costs would inevitably drive demand for energy-conscious building design methods, which in turn require the model-based design and analysis techniques collectively known as VDC or building information modeling (BIM).
IES Virtual Environment 5.9 Building Performance Analysis Software
Solving the Problem
Nearly a decade before the widespread industry conversation about BIM and VDC, and even before the founding of the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI, the world's principal advocate for and promoter of model-based design), a company called Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) came on the scene. IES was founded in 1994 in Scotland "with the initial purpose of developing what were then primarily academic tools for building performance design and analysis and bringing them into mainstream use," according to founder and managing director, Don McLean. The company launched commercially viable software that has grown to encompass design and analysis for all building design disciplines and to span a range of price/performance levels from the free and easy to the most detailed and rigorous.
IES' banner brand for its wide array of offerings is Virtual Environment (VE), an apt moniker for a suite of software that virtualizes the entire process of designing buildings with and for environmental considerations. Each VE flavor is tailored to specific AEC-related needs and capabilities.
Figure 1. The VE/Solar module performs suncasting studies and animations for any date and latitude.
This core product is what the company characterizes as the full Virtual Environment, which easily qualifies as the most comprehensive, most rigorous, and best integrated suite of tools for building energy design and analysis on the market today. It is intended for building designers who wish to design and analyze in the finest level of detail, with the greatest control over all parameters, and with the most flexible options for comparing and presenting data and results. This full IES/VE includes a building modeler component for creating entire building models from scratch or working with models imported from DXF or gbXML file formats. Regardless of the origin and source of the building model inside IES/VE, design engineers can apply a wide range of analytical tools. Module categories include VE/Mechanical, VE/Electrical, and VE/Lighting, which performs analyses of both natural and artificial lighting. VE/Thermal includes several tools — Apache and MacroFlo among them — for total building and room-by-room energy calculation, simulation, and heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system design. VE/Solar supports suncasting studies (figure 1), and VE/CFD (computational fluid dynamics, an analytical technique for studying airflows and temperature differentials) determines the effects of air movement and the resulting occupant comfort (figure 2). VE/Costs, including CostPlan lifecycle analysis, and VE/Value are sophisticated economic analysis modules. These IES/VE modules and other IES tools are accessible via one-click buttons down the left-side navigation pane of the main IES/VE screen.
Figure 2. Computational fluid dynamics is used in IES/VE for tasks such as determining occupant comfort in air-conditioned spaces.
It Is Easy Being Green
Typical analyses start in the model viewer, which supports modeling, remodeling, and additions to designs for the purpose of conducting what-if scenarios. For example, designers might wish to explore the energy effects of alternative arrangements and sizes of windows or of differing geographic orientations of a proposed building. Analyses such as VE/Solar run inside the model viewer and include animated sequences (AVI files) of suncasting throughout any day of the year. User-selectable model transparency enables viewing the sun- and shadow casting on interior and exterior walls and floors.
VE/Thermal builds detailed reports room-by-room according to extensive preloaded data sets for occupancy class, construction type, and so on, combined with external loads. These detailed design and analysis capabilities are available throughout the full range of IES modules, covering everything from occupant comfort to lifecycle cost and detailed HVAC system control network diagrams.
New IES Plug-In for Google SketchUp
As expected, these comprehensive capabilities incorporate support for sustainability analyses and green design principles and their country-specific manifestations such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in the United States or Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) in the United Kingdom. However, there is a growing recognition that for sustainable principles to have an environmentally and economically meaningful effect on building design, those principles must be used at an earlier stage and a higher level of the overall design process than the detailed engineering design stages and levels that were the target market for the full IES/VE.
Accordingly, IES offers VE-Toolkits that package specific detail-level IES/VE functions in ways that make them more widely accessible, more affordable, and easier to use for building designers considering the early interaction of sustainability with a building design and for architects wishing to obtain more rigorous feedback regarding environmental/sustainable impacts of their schemes earlier in the design process. The VE-Toolkit lineup includes a general-purpose Sustainability Toolkit (figure 3), which in turn incorporates support for the Architecture 2030 Challenge (www.architecture2030.org) that aims to incrementally reduce fossil-fuel greenhouse-gas (GHG)–emitting consumption of new buildings in the United States to carbon neutral by 2030.
Figure 3. IES VE-Toolkits, such as the Sustainability Toolkit, provide easy access to the calculations and analyses most relevant to green design.
Closer-at-hand energy and daylight improvements are the goal of IES' LEED Toolkit, also based on ameliorating the underlying condition that nearly half of U.S.-based GHG emissions come from buildings — not car exhausts or factory smokestacks — while more than three-fourths "of all electricity generated by U.S. power plants goes to supply the building sector," according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To cite a single example, IES' LEED Toolkit supports one-click calculation of building daylighting analyses to determine whether a given design option passes or fails LEED Section 8.1.
Additional VE-Toolkits scheduled for release in 2009 include a Greenstar Toolkit and a BREEAM Toolkit that will support the BRE Environmental Assessment Method of the U.K. Building Research Establishment. Any sustainability analysis or calculation performed in any IES VE-Toolkit can be carried forward without duplication or rework into the full IES VE suite for more detailed assessment.
Mix and Match
To further integrate the range of VE capabilities into typical design work flows, IES offers plug-ins for Autodesk Revit Architecture and Revit MEP 2008 and 2009. These plug-ins make the power of the VE-Toolkits and the entire IES/VE suite available through simple menu clicks directly inside these Revit design environments. It should be noted, however, that recent Autodesk acquisitions in this arena, especially Green Building Studio and Ecotect, may offer Autodesk Revit users an alternative and a wholly Autodesk-based path to sustainable design, as contrasted with the very effective IES plug-in/Toolkit approach.
IES' most accessible tool is VE-Ware, which is free building energy and carbon assessment software (figure 4). Like all IES tools, VE-Ware can be applied to any building type in any country and supports imperial and metric units.
Figure 4. VE-Ware encompasses IES free tools for sustainability analysis, especially at early stages of design. Analytical results from VE-Ware can be extended and refined in the full Virtual Environment without rework or duplication.
The range of IES products encompasses environmentally related building design and analysis at any desired level of detail or specificity, conducted by any design discipline (architecture, mechanical, and electrical) at any stage or phase of the design process for any building in any location. In this world of energy-related challenges and concern about the global environment and climate, no responsible participant in the building design process can afford to do without one or more IES products. Highly Recommended.