IES Plug-In Turns Free 3D Modeler into Sustainability Tool

28 Aug, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

New connector for SketchUp gives users direct access to IES's energy analysis tools.

Because of its ubiquity and affordability, Google SketchUp is fast becoming the AEC industry's go-to software for preliminary design exploration. But this week, when Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) released a free plug-in for SketchUp, the lightweight 3D sketching software became capable of some heavy-duty energy analysis tasks.

"When we released a plug-in for Revit Architecture and Revit MEP, so many of our customers and potential customers told us, 'We're not using Revit for the early stages of our design. We're using SketchUp,' " explained IES founder Don McLean. "In their workflow, they want to be able to do sustainable design validation in SketchUp, then pass that on to Revit," hence the introduction of the plug-in.

In addition to the VE-Toolkits and VE suite software products IES sells, the company also offers a free version called VE-Ware. So essentially, a free SketchUp user can use VE-Ware to verify the building's carbon emission, energy usage, and Architecture 2030 benchmark conformity -- without paying a dime to Google and IES.

How the Plug-In Works
The plug-in is compatible with both the free and professional ($495) versions of SketchUp. When installed, it adds an IES toolbar to SketchUp, giving the user direct access to IES's energy analysis tools: VE-Ware, VE-Toolkits, and the full VE suite. The plug-in also lets users assign latitudes and longitudes to the building simply by picking its location from Google Earth. This allows users to run solar analysis on the design using the climate data specific to the construction site.

All IES solutions are available as modules. VE-Toolkits, priced $1,000 each, are currently available for sustainability analysis (comprising heating and cooling, thermal, daylight, and solar simulation tools) and LEED certification. Two new kits -- one to verify how a design will perform under the BRE Environmental assessment methods and another to check Greenstar standards -- are set to become available by the end of 2008. The full VE suite is made up of modules for model building, electrical and mechanical check, airflow check, lighting and daylighting simulations, and a host of other tasks. According to McLean, customers typically invest about $12,000 to $15,000 for a set of them.

Click for larger image
IES's SketchUp plug-in adds a toolbar to SketchUp, which allows users direct access to the energy analysis features from IES products. (Click image for a larger version)

The Sustainability Gold Rush
The new plug-in is expected to be a welcome feature for current IES customers. At the same time, it gives IES a way to persuade SketchUp users, many of whom might be also using Revit and other building modeling (BIM) packages for subsequent stages of the design, to experiment with the free VE-Ware, then gradually convert to VE-Tookits and full VE.

In June, Autodesk acquired two energy analysis products, Green Building Studios (GBS) and Ecotect, an indication that the AEC industry now considers such tools an essential part of the workflow. GBS users can get a SketchUp plug-in called Demeter (in beta) from GBS's partner Greenspace Research. Ecotect can import SketchUp models, along with material assignments, in the OBJ format. (For more, read "AutoCAD Giant's Green Footprint Grows Bigger.")