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Many architects are looking to incorporate performance analysis into their design process — to take advantage of the growing green building market, meet increasingly stringent performance expectations, or achieve ambitious targets like the 2030 Challenge. But at the same time, performance analysis is often a totally new capability, and many architects struggle to fit it into an already fast-paced design process.

As a sustainable design leader, how can you roll out best practices throughout your firm? Or, as an individual architect or designer, how can you begin to do analysis in a fast, lightweight way? Here are a few observations on best ways to begin doing performance analysis, drawn from accumulated experience and conversations with our customers.

 

1. Use your current project.

You don’t have to wait for a Net Zero Energy or LEED Platinum design to benefit from good data on building performance — that’s missing much of the value of analysis. Performance analysis does not have to be a Big Task, something that happens either completely or not at all. Instead, it can help you weigh (and communicate) costs and benefits of any number of design decisions. Use performance analysis to add value to a current project, focusing on whatever design problem you’re working on right now. Which leads us to point #2 …

2. Think small.

Do a simple study to provide insight on an immediate design problem. Remember that analysis isn’t only about energy use! You can study changes in operating costs, peak HVAC loads (which translate to HVAC capital cost), or other metrics, depending on the project’s goals. For instance:
• Working on wall sections? Use Response Curves to find optimal insulation levels for your project.
• Drafting window specs? Use analysis to find the best glazing properties for each facade.
• Designing shading devices? Use analysis to determine the best shading length for each orientation, or to compare 2 or 3 shading design options.
• Looking at massing design? Quickly compare the options to get a sense of trade-offs between them (e.g., if we go with Option A, we’ll want to think about shading).
• Looking at window proportions? See how different options affect daylighting and energy use.
• Considering a design change? Evaluate the performance impact to clarify the decision and avoid unintended consequences down the road (e.g. changes to HVAC sizing).

(Our Performance Based Design eBook provides more examples.)

3. Focus on the deliverable.

Having a clear idea of the deliverable has two benefits: (1) it helps to provide focus for the exercise, and (2) it provides a clear path to value. The deliverable could be a graphic for a presentation, a comparison report for a discussion with the client, a strategy study for LEED v4 IPc1, or a Response Curve that helps you make a design decision. One popular deliverable among many Sefaira customers is a design option comparison for a bid or proposal. This is a quick way to demonstrate a rigorous, data-based approach to a prospective client — and winning more work can quickly prove the value of analysis.

4. Start with benchmarks.

Benchmark your current project: What’s the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) for a similar building in your area, and where does your current design stand? This study can be done in a few minutes with Sefaira for SketchUp, which includes automated benchmarks based on building type and location.

The exercise doesn’t need to be anything more than the benchmark — the goal is simply to provide visibility. However, this data often leads to further questions: What’s causing this project to be so much better or worse than its peers? Are there easy way of getting the number down? As these questions emerge organically, they will provide motivation for delving further into the data.

(A good next step is understanding your building’s performance to see what’s driving the top-level energy figure.)

5. Decentralize analysis capabilities.

Decentralization is critical for making design decisions in a fast, lightweight way — but it will require some capacity building and training. Equip all designers with basic understanding of key metrics (like EUI) and the capabilities of available tools. At Sefaira we work hard to build software that is accessible and intuitive for all designers — not just those who are already energy modeling experts — so a little basic orientation is often all that’s needed to get started. (Sefaira offers free training for all our customers — let us know if you’d like a refresher.)

Analysis adds the most value to the design process when it provides fast, actionable insight. Small, focused studies with clear deliverables provide a perfect starting point for firms who are new to performance analysis. Over time, these individual studies will build your capacity for analysis and enable you to make it a fundamental part of your design process.