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Harnessing BIM to Drive Sustainability in Commercial Buildings

March 22, 2024
How can project teams use BIM to make new or existing commercial buildings more sustainable? Learn some real-life applications here.

What you’ll learn:

  • How BIM supports improved sustainability in commercial buildings
  • Which approaches professionals take when using BIM to support sustainability

 

Building information modeling (BIM) has been a game-changer for allowing people to create digital representations of physical structures and store that information in the cloud to promote collaboration. Many people are also interested in using BIM for sustainable construction. The potential applications vary significantly, allowing construction professionals to tailor specific uses to particular needs.

Reducing Construction Waste

The construction materials for a sustainable building can comprise significant percentages of the overall budget. Costs could climb even further than expected if project teams experience supply chain delays or shortages that require them to use costlier alternatives. Many building owners and design professionals are interested in using durable materials that will last for years and align with the building’s sustainable goals.

For example, responsibly produced timber is a renewable resource because people can grow more of the needed to make it. Additionally, bamboo is an increasingly popular material for flooring and building frames. It grows quickly, making it a viable renewable material for today’s commercial buildings.

However, creating a truly sustainable building is about more than choosing eco-friendly materials. This goal also requires people to minimize construction waste by implementing thoughtful processes. The EU-funded INBUILT project aims to tackle that issue by combining BIM for sustainable construction with a decision-support tool.

One goal is to develop techniques to build, design or retrofit buildings using or reusing sustainable materials. Some options participants will initially explore include hybrid straw-clay boards, recycled concrete and smart windows made from recycled glass. Those involved want to reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the built environment and its construction processes, which some estimates suggest are up to 50% of the total.

People working on the project will take a BIM approach to streamline construction project time frames. The multi-objective, decision-support tool will assist people in determining the most advantageous ways to use sustainable materials for their projects. This initiative—which received €7.3 million in funding (US$7.9 million) —began on December 1, 2023 and will continue until May 2027. It’s under the umbrella of a larger partnership seeking to emphasize human-centered innovation to make buildings more sustainable.

Applying BIM to Minimize Energy Usage

Many commercial clients become interested in sustainable buildings because they want to reduce overall resource usage. Electricians can advise these customers about minor building updates, such as installing smart lights to minimize unnecessary energy consumption. These professionals can assess the full extent of a client’s needs and determine the best pathways for safe and effective results. For example, federal regulations in the U.S. require using metal conduits in above-ground commercial environments.

Those involved in energy-related updates can also use BIM information to highlight their options and guide decision-making. One case study of an academic building in Pakistan showed the possibilities of relying on BIM data to see the energy-related effects of 10 building attributes to maximize potential savings. The participants also used BIM data to determine the best energy-efficient construction materials.

People studied specifics such as wall orientation, window shades, occupancy controls and the daylight received by each part of the building. They also used cloud-based energy analysis software to rotate the structure 360 degrees, moving it 45 degrees at a time to determine the precise orientation that would maximize energy savings.

Eventually, the team calculated the maximum energy savings at 585.10 kilowatt-hours and $550 per year. They also created a report detailing which design choices could modify and manage how the business used energy. Window-to-wall ratios, efficient lights and operating ratios were some of the factors that would alter the building’s overall energy usage. The document also broke down the statistics for energy usage per project and per square meter.

Such content empowers facility managers, construction professionals and others to make well-informed choices and set realistic expectations for the results. The data also facilitates convincing parties with budgetary authority that certain options will be more cost-effective than others.

Integrating Generative AI With BIM for Sustainable Construction

The launch of ChatGPT and similar chatbot-based tools quickly showed people the potential of using generative AI to assist with everything from idea generation to foreign language practice. Some forward-thinking individuals are also curious about how to apply the technology to sustainable construction efforts. These attempts remain in the early stages, primarily because such uses of generative AI are relatively new.

However, some of the research so far helps people understand what to expect and why they should consider using generative AI during their construction projects. One 2023 research paper about applying Google’s Bard chatbot in the industry clarifies how generative AI tools can show performance improvements over time and respond differently when provided with project-based data.

The research paper also detailed some of the most practical ways to apply generative AI tools to construction. These resources could support people through the design and planning phases, allowing users to provide queries in natural-sounding language and accelerate their workflows. Since these chatbots can enhance communication, they can simultaneously improve collaboration and reduce misunderstandings between people in various roles. Such tools could also serve as knowledge repositories, shortening the time users need to retrieve relevant information.

These tools don’t replace human insight into sustainable construction methods. However, they can result in more effective processes when people take the time to learn and experiment to determine the most appropriate applications.

For example, the researchers listed several potential challenges to be aware of and try to overcome. They include difficulties integrating generative AI with existing tools, encountering potential inaccuracies and finding that the chatbot lacks contextual information and procedural knowledge. Fortunately, knowing about these shortcomings is the first step to understanding that chatbots and other tools are often helpful but not infallible.

Are You Ready to Apply BIM for Sustainable Construction?

These examples show how people have many compelling reasons to use BIM for sustainable construction. Doing so can allow people to manage waste, achieve energy-efficiency goals, choose eco-friendly materials and more.

Getting the best results requires carefully understanding clients’ needs and the project scope. That information can help people identify BIM's most practical advantages for sustainable construction. All parties should also agree on and analyze metrics as the work progresses. Collecting that information can show if things are on the right track or need alterations to cause the intended outcomes.

Sustainable construction will remain in demand, especially with more world leaders setting emissions targets and recognizing the building sector as a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Using BIM as a strategic tool during eco-friendly projects can reduce challenges and foster collaboration across locations and teams.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is an industrial and tech journalist passionate about how technology is revolutionizing each sector. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than five years and is the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized.

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