September 15, 2008
Free Beta Toolbar Enables Environmental Analysis
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Free Beta Toolbar Enables Environmental Analysis

By Susan Smith

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), a mainstay in the world of integrated performance analysis software and consulting services for sustainable building design, announced recently a plug-in to Google SketchUp, a free 3D design tool from Google. SketchUp, a tool that architects find very useful for sketching out designs prior to working in CAD software, came on board when Google acquired @Last Software two years ago. Google SketchUp comes in both a free and pro version.

The IES SketchUp plug-in sits within the SketchUp application and gives direct access to all of IES’s tools: VE-Ware, VE-Toolkits and the full . The IES plug-in allows SketchUp users to assign important sustainable design information like location, building and room type, construction types and HVAC systems to their SketchUp model and then import it directly into their chosen IES analysis tool, without having to re-build any geometry. Users can not only see how a building might look, but also see how it will possibly perform. “Our users have asked why can’t we do something with SketchUp?” said Dr. Don Mc Lean, founder and MD of IES, who started the company in
1994. “They’re already working with SketchUp and want to be able to have the analysis tools to make the right decisions. By the time they get to Revit, all the decisions are taken.” It is advantageous to be able to use SketchUp in the early stages of design, the users say. They cannot get access to IES software which is inside Revit or other CAD software, so they are unable to take the full advantage of IES.

The Toolbar allows these users, who are generally architects, engineers and others in the building design profession, to access energy, carbon, solar analysis and daylight at the earliest stages of design with just the touch of a few buttons. They can access these tools within SketchUp to make a bigger difference toward achieving a sustainable design. The Toolbar allows users to interpret the SketchUp information and translate it to the IES format, where the necessary analysis can be made.

“Obviously as SketchUp doesn’t have any analysis capability this is generating a lot of interest,” said McLean. “The feedback we’ve been getting from our beta testers has been extremely positive about what they can do.”

A public beta of the software and plug-in is available now. The different levels of software address a different part of the analysis process. IES’ VE-Ware is a free product released earlier in the year which allows users to do free energy and carbon analysis that are geared to the 2030 Challenge, with carbon checking ability, “which is a very hard assessment to meet,” according to McLean.

Previously, the company only had Revit connectivity but no SketchUp connectivity. About the VE-Ware, Mc Lean said, “Not only do we have a free high quality tool that is a carbon checker that tells you how much carbon you’re emitting, it is actually doing an assessment of how the building is performing.” Users can use this plus use free SketchUp. “Now, anyone in a small or large practice can get those two products and do actual detailed analysis of that building to try and make that building more sustainable and energy efficient,” stated Mc Lean, adding that this is “a revolutionary step that gives you high quality tools to do analytic design to make
buildings much more effective.”

The next level up from VE-Ware are the VE-Toolkits, geared for more capability and wider range. They allow architects and engineers to be able to do quick assessments on good quality data, they can iterate and have the quantity and quality of information from the earliest design stage of the massing model to be able to make much better sustainable decisions. The full integrated suite will give users all these capabilities in much greater detail, including more options to change and interrogate in a much more detailed format. The three levels are not mutually exclusive, and the SketchUp model created can be used in any of the levels.

A description of the three levels of VE Software is as follows (from the press release):
  • IES VE-Ware: Free energy and carbon analysis tool which makes basic performance analysis widely available to anyone and includes US Architecture 2030 Challenge benchmark capabilities;
  • IES VE-Toolkits: mid-level tools that allow a variety of early stage sustainability energy, carbon, solar and daylight analyses to be undertaken at the touch of a few buttons. Including thermal implications of solar/light penetration and LEED/US 2030 Challenge benchmark capabilities;
  • The full IES : a powerful integrated suite of highly detailed performance analysis tools covering Energy, Carbon, Thermal comfort, Airflow (CFD), Bulk Airflow, Daylighting, Solar, LEED, Egress, M&E, Value and Capital/Lifecycle Cost. It also contains Government approved software for showing compliance with conservation of energy Building Regulations and the creation of non-dwelling Energy Performance Certificates in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

  • “The idea being once you go through that with SketchUp and analyze your building and you go to Revit and go to the production aspect of it, then you can use exactly the same tools to do your analysis,” said Mc Lean. “You’ve got the toolkits that will work in both SketchUp and Revit. The idea is to give people continuity throughout the design process and also have levels of product that allows people to select the one that’s most appropriate.”

    A Revit partner, IES has the same SketchUp toolkit designed for Revit. IES is not currently partnered with other CAD vendors, however, they have just released toolkits that significantly update their gbXML connection which makes it possible for users of Bentley and Graphisoft products to export a gbXML file that can be imported to IES Toolkits.

    The SketchUp Toolbar allows IES users to download information from Google Earth and upload it for use for shading and lighting, for example. In SketchUp, users can define rooms and data, and anything that is an obstruction in the model. To work from a geographical location, users can find location on Google Earth, pick out the latitude and longitude and bring that into the model. The construction and generic parameters can be defined from that information. To build a 20-story building, in SketchUp one could look at it as a single tall space, then for analysis purposes, select story height and the IES SketchUp Toolbar will automatically split the model into the spaces of the correct height.

    Within Revit, Mc Lean said that users have had the ability to do comparative analysis and see how the numbers change as they add or subtract options for energy calculations, but not in SketchUp “where a lot of these decisions are made.” The SketchUp Toolbar allows users to get very fast feedback and manipulate multiple scenarios. “The beauty is you’re getting information that usually architects may wait two to three weeks to get back from an engineer,” concluded Mc Lean.

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