A Guided Quest for Hidden Energy

5 Aug, 2009 By: Kenneth Wong

The new VE-Gaia module in VE 6.0 from IES offers a simpler approach to building energy analysis.

Though software-based energy simulation has become a standard part of the conceptualization phase in architecture, sophisticated analyses — such as LEED accreditation, daylight and comfort assessment, heating and cooling loads, and water use — remain something of a black art, confined to specialists.

Over the years, Don McLean, managing director of the Glasgow-headquartered Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), has put considerable effort into simplifying building energy analysis. In 2008, he began distributing a free version (VE-Ware) of his company's Virtual Environment (VE) software, which simulates energy efficiency and carbon emissions. This month, he plans to introduce VE-Gaia, a new module debuting in the upcoming VE 6.0. The company let me preview the module in its beta version.

First, the Installation
The executable application for VE 6.0 is a small, 180-MB directory, but to take full advantage of VE, you'll also need to install the VE Shared Content folder, a 770-MB directory containing weather, texture, lighting (lumen and glare values for construction materials), and other databases needed to perform energy simulation. If you'd like to establish a direct link to VE from a modeling software program, you can install the Autodesk Revit plugin or Google SketchUp plugin, which creates an embedded IES VE menu in the chosen 3D modeling package.

You activate the VE-Gaia license by clicking on the wire frame globe icon, the first one from the left in VE 6.0's default interface setup. This reveals a series of expandable bullets nested in the margin, which serves as your step-by-step guide to the various tests and simulations you might perform to improve your building's energy efficiency. Simply put, the new module gives architects and analysts who are pursuing green architecture a logical workflow. 

Above: VE-Gaia, a new module debuting in VE 6.0, is a series of expandable bullet items that guide the user through a logical workflow to complete specific building performance analyses. Below: The bullet list in its expanded form.

One Step at a Time
The drop-down Application selector window (located at the top of the left margin, below the menu bar) lets you decide which series of tasks you want to perform. For example, if you select Climate, the bullets in the margin will change to climate-related task lists: [set] Location & Weather > [set] Climate metrics > Simulate; or [set] Climate index > Simulate.

If you select Model geometry > Import geometry, the expanded bullet list urges you to Consider the level of details required in the model or Create [geometry] from DXF. If you choose the latter, you're presented with the choice to either (1) Attach DXF or (2) Construct from DXF.

If you choose LEED > LEED rating system, you'll be given several choices in a dialog box: New construction and major renovation (V3, 2009), Core & shell (V3, 2009), School (V3, 2009), and so on. In the same place, if you choose LEED > Daylighting, you'll be asked to Edit spaces in simulation (choose the room or rooms you want to examine), Edit Tvis (assign or modify numeric values for visible transmittance for glazed objects like walls and windows), choose Simple or Advanced (for light spill from adjacent spaces), then let the simulation run.

Refine and Explore
If construction details are not yet available to you, you could run your tests using default values, but once you have decided on the materials you would use, you can launch the Building Template Manager dialog box to edit roof type, ceiling type, exterior wall, interior wall, thermal condition, and lighting properties for each room to get better simulation results. Using the same method, you could run the same tests with different materials to determine the best option, not only in costs but in LEED compliance and carbon emissions. At any given moment, if you wish to inspect the building model in a rendered view, you can click on the Model viewer to activate shaded, wire frame, or transparent mode.

The Add window, Add door, or Add hole command button lets you pick the desired type of opening (for example, a rectangle 1 x 2, set at base height 0", width 3'3", height 3'3"), then drop it into a surface (most likely a wall or a partition).

Using the Building Template Manager dialog box, you can edit the properties of each room, including its floor, roof, and wall type.

Adding windows, doors, or holes could be as simple as selecting a standard size and dropping the opening on a surface.

Hot and Cold
The tests you run produce reports in HTML file format, complete with graphics and input parameters used for the simulations, saved to a designated folder in your project directory. At every stage, you can hover your mouse over the question mark icon next to the selected task to get more tips. (In the beta version IES provided for this review, the guiding text remained incomplete, but the commercial version is expected to come with full explanatory text.) At each stage, you can enter notes into the window below the selected task or put a check mark next to it to indicate the chosen test or simulation has been completed.

The functions listed under VE-Gaia are not new. Most, if not all, are available as part of VE 6.0's Model Builder, Solar, Thermal, Lighting, Cost, and other modules. Another alternative is to dive into the same VE simulation functions from your Autodesk Revit or Google SketchUp plugin. But the advantage of VE-Gaia is its guided approach to what remains for many a collection of nonlinear tasks. The lack of familiarity with a standard workflow, the company points out, previously prevented inexperienced users from using a higher-end product like VE-Pro. By presenting the right dialog box at the right step, the new module simplifies energy analysis into a sequential workflow, complemented by a finite number of input choices and prompts. The design of the module reinforces IES's professed goal for VE-Gaia — to let users "undertake complex environmental performance analysis without the need for expert knowledge."

VE-Gaia's step-by-step approach makes it easy to run sophisticated climate simulations.


Pricing for VE Modules

  • IES VE-Ware (free)
  • IES VE-Toolkits ($1,000 for one or $1,750 for both, annual standalone licenses, other options available)
  • IES VE-Gaia ($1,000, additional navigators from $1,500 each, annual standalone licenses, other options available)
  • IES VE-Pro (price depends on configuration)

Currently IES is running a promotion for VE-Gaia: Buy one core VE-Gaia license and get another free until the launch of v6.1.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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