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Built Environment: Tools and Resources

Looking for tools and resources for improving resource efficiency in your building or buildings? If so, you’ve come to the right place. While there are several excellent tools and resources available, we have selected our favorite public ones. Since new tools are constantly emerging, we invite you to return to this page periodically or follow us on twitter.

Jump To Your Area of Interest:

Building Energy Software Tools & Resources
Passive House
Financial Analysis
Split Incentives
Integrative Design
Building Energy Transparency & Benchmarking
Life Cycle Assessment

BUILDING ENERGY SOFTWARE TOOLS & RESOURCES

Overview: Design teams use energy and daylight analysis to compare performance and inform design. In some instances, detailed, calibrated whole-building models can be used to estimate absolute energy use. By performing whole-building energy and daylight analysis, one can assess passive efficiency strategies (such as daylighting), reductions in cooling/heating loads, high-efficiency equipment and synergistic combinations of measures. Building energy models can also be used to support savings verification and identify non-optimal operating conditions. Review the list of tools and resources below to benefit your next building project.

The Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy maintains a website that lists over 400 building software tools for evaluating energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability.

Through funding provided by DOE, RMI has developed a guide for securing and specifying modeling services - Building Energy Modeling (BEM) for Owners and Managers (online version).

RMI shares their in-house modeling tools developed to streamline the modeling process. These include:

  • Energy Model Input Translator (EMIT) -EMIT is a compilation of spreadsheet-based calculators that help translate manufacturer’s data and code requirements into energy model input values.
  • Model Manager -The RMI Model Manager is an Excel-based pre- and post-processing tool that utilizes eQUEST batch processing capabilities as well as results extraction functions. Model Manager facilitates batch processing and input and output error checking.

One of our favorite freely-shared tools is Chhaya 2.0© developed by Vikram Sami (Updated Feb 2013). Chhaya is an Excel-based design tool that helps designers optimize glazing size and orientation, shading and natural ventilation to extend the period that the building can run passively. Using TMY2 weather data and a series of matrices, Chhaya’s interactive features allow users to see instantaneously the effects of changing window sizes, shades, and ventilation.Chhaya tutorials available here.

Do your spouse’s eyes glaze over at the dinner table as soon as you utter the words “energy modeling?” If so, have detailed exchanges about modeling with helpful practitioners by signing up on a building performance mailing list. These general and tool specific lists are maintained by Gard Analytics. 

A mainstay resource that supports energy-efficient design best practices and building modeling is the Energy Design Resources website, which is funded through the CPUC by utility customers.  Reports that we reference frequently, include:

A resource that has great potential to fulfill industry’s need for widely accessible modeling information depository is the International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA-USA) BEMBook Wiki. One can also access training materials delivered as part of their BEMBook Workshop from the site.

A helpful review guide for LEED New Constuction 2009 EAc1 submittals is available through the GBCI website.  It includes a collection of tips from LEED reviewers.

RMI also shares tables, checklists and model input text they developed to support their in-house DOE 2.2/eQUEST modeling efforts. These resources are listed below.

  • RMI Example Building Model QUEST/DOE-2 Checklist - A checklist to support quality assurance checking of a whole-building simulation model. We use as part of our internal review process for our eQUEST models.
  • Waltz Building Performance Metrics - Redistributed by permission from James Waltz, this list shows common building performance metrics and a range of typical values based on his extensive experience in auditing and modeling.
  • Sample DOE-2 input file snippets for ASHRAE Baseline Components - If you are comfortable editing your model in text mode, using a library of "snippets" such as this can support consistency and streamline baseline model development.
  • Black Belt Energy Modeling - This concept was developed out of a need to define a continuum of modeling skills, establish professional development goals, and outline training options.
  • Energy Design Resources: HVAC Simulation Guidelines - Guidelines for performing energy simulations for underfloor air distribution, efficient chiller designs, and advanced HVAC control sequences.
  • Energy Audit Sample Forms - These sample forms can assist building energy auditors collecting the data required to complete comprehensive energy and financial analyses of proposed modifications to a building. (Best suited to Level II and Level III audits.)

HEED, Home Energy Efficient Design - Redistributed by permission from Murray Milne, Research professor at UCLA. Perfect for residential analysis, HEED is fast, easy to use, and free.  It can model many passive solutions for thermal loads, as well as photovoltaics, solar hot water, and compare different design solutions.

Uncertainty Analysis and Risk Assessment

Typically energy modelers provide a single estimate of energy savings, with no quantification of associated risk. In the absence of risk information investors assume high risk and demand much higher rates of return, or de-rate energy savings estimates resulting in less overall investment in building efficiency upgrades.Uncertainty analysis methods are now being incorporated into simulation software. By providing information on risk building efficiency investments can be more fairly evaluated against other investments.

Incorporating Uncertainty Analysis into a Building Retrofit Analysis - These slides illustrate a methodology for incorporating uncertainty analysis into retrofit projects through an example project.

Elements version 1.0.0
Elements a free, open-source, cross-platform software tool for Windows and Mac for creating and editing custom weather files for building energy modeling. The goal of the project is to develop a comprehensive, integrated application suitable for handling all of the common tasks associated with weather files. Major features include capabilities to read and write common weather file formats, view and edit weather data, and graphically visualize weather data.

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PASSIVE HOUSE

Passive House (Passivhaus in German) refers to the rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building.  It results in superefficient buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.  In addition to very strict energy limits, the Passive House standard requires airtight construction and high-performing thermal envelope properties.  Passive House buildings provide a high degree of thermal comfort, superior indoor air quality and are detailed for durability.

The Passive House standard is not confined to residential properties; several office buildings, schools and even a supermarket have also been designed and constructed to meet the standard. Although it is mostly applied to new buildings, it has also been used for refurbishments.

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FINANCIAL ANALYSIS

Different owners or occupants of property will consider building efficiency financing differently. Owners and occupants of larger properties have greater resources for a comprehensive analysis and have increased potential to derive benefits from efficiency investment compared to smaller property owners and occupants. Occupants enjoy the benefits of a sustainable property, while the benefits of investors will be limited by leases, holding periods, and the ability to have tenants pay for the benefits they receive. The following resources help you think through financing and identify specific financing mechanisms that will help you realize building efficiency.

  • RetroFit Depot - A unique website from Rocky Mountain Institute dedicated to catalyzing deep retrofits across the U.S. commercial building stock. The site provides (free) tools and comprehensive information and news about the deep retrofit process to building owners, service providers, and investors. The website shows owners and service providers how to build the case for deep energy retrofits, finance the improvements, and walks the audience through the steps of implementing a deep energy retrofit, from conception to completion.
  • Green Building Finance Consortium - The Green Building Finance Consortium is a research and education initiative formed in 2006. It produced Value Beyond Cost Savings, a book that provides the methods and practices necessary to assess the value and risk of sustainable property investment. In addition, the Consortium website provides an extensive research library. All resources on the website are free and publically available.
  • Building Upgrade Manual, Financing Chapter - The ENERGY STAR Building Manual is a guide to help you plan and implement energy saving building upgrades. The Financing Chapter provides a comprehensive overview of mechanisms to pay for building efficiency upgrades.
  • DSIRE—Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency - This website provides a comprehensive and up-to-date list of government and utility financial incentives that promote energy efficiency in the United States, enabling viewers to quickly determine the incentives available for their projects.
  • Green Building Information Gateway - The Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG) is a novel information technology that provides an unprecedented view of the green building landscape and reveals trends, patterns and processes in green building practice. GBIG allows for the investigation and analysis of data about LEED-certified projects, and enables users to view green building in the context of other spatial and temporal factors. GBIG is a product of the U.S. Green Building Council Research Program.
  • LCCAid - LCCAid (life cycle cost analysis for integrative design) is an Excel-based tool for enabling optimal decision-making during deep retrofit projects. While compliant with all government LCCA standards, LCCAid offers unique functionality that better supports integrative design.

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SPLIT INCENTIVES

One of the main barriers to building efficiency is the “split incentive” and it results from investors not being able to easily have tenants pay for the benefits they receive. The root cause is the structure of many commercial leases, which stipulate that the building owner is responsible for bearing the cost of all capital upgrades to the building and all of the energy costs are passed through to the tenants. The “green lease” and other resources have emerged to solve this problem.

  • Green Lease Library - Produce through a collaborative effort between Rocky Mountain Institute, the US Department of Energy, BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association), the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others, the purpose of the website is to consolidate green leasing resources. Building owners and tenants to lawyers and building raters can all use this website.
  • RMI-BOMA Landlord-Tenant Sustainability Collaboration Guide  - This guide jointly produced by Rocky Mountain Institute and BOMA outlines five actionable steps that building owners and tenants could take to partner in the shared goal of energy efficiency. In addition to offering valuable and simple solutions for deeper and more aggressive energy savings, the guide provides links to other resources to aid commercial buildings and their occupants in finding solutions that work to conserve energy without jeopardizing occupant health or productivity.

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INTEGRATIVE DESIGN

Integrative design is a highly collaborative and iterative design process that promotes resource efficiency.  It employs whole-systems thinking to derive multiple benefits from single expenditures, often economically justifying much larger resource savings than is typically achieved. The following resources help you do integrative design.

  • RetroFit Depot Guides - The RetroFit Depot Guides help you plan and enact a deep energy retrofit of a commercial building from initial conception through project completion. Filled with useful approaches, these guides can be used by building owners, managers, and practitioners to minimize capital cost and derive maximum value from the project.
  • Integrative Design Checklist - This checklist can help determine the viability of various design solutions, and can be used during the early stages of the design process to encourage the design team to create whole-systems solutions.
  • Goals Dashboard - Use this Goals Dashboard during a workshop to get everyone aligned around similar goals and identify next steps. The Dashboard can be used at the beginning of the project as well as later on.

    Goals - Set and document measurable performance goals. Be sure to specify units (i.e. kbtu/sf/yr, gallons/year) or baselines (i.e. ASHRAE 90.1-2007 baseline, pre-retrofit energy use intensity) where appropriate.

    Benchmarks - Compare project goals to relevant benchmarks to ensure they represent aggressive targets. Useful comparisons include: performance achieved by similar buildings or institutions, performance requirements specified in codes or standards.

    Verification - Agree on a method for tracking achievement throughout the design process. Scopes of work for the design team should be drafted or modified to enable sufficient time and funds for team members to track achievement. Update the Goals Dashboard at important design milestones.

    Strategies - Identify the most impactful design strategies that should be investigated in the current design phase to meet performance goals.

    Key Questions - Identify the major questions that must be answered in order to decide between design strategies.

    Next Steps - Identify key next steps, inlcuding responsible parties and timeline for completion.

     
  • Taylor Engineering Tools - Taylor Engineering staff members have written or contributed to a number of design guides that can be helpful for your projects.
  • Integrative Design: A Disruptive Source of Expanding Returns to Investments in Energy Efficiency - This paper by Amory Lovins summarizes the principle of integrative design. Examples described in this paper for buildings, industry, and vehicles show that optimizing whole systems for multiple benefits, not disjunct components for single benefits, often makes gains in end-use efficiency much bigger and cheaper than conventionally supposed.
  • Using Contracting to Improve Building Project Delivery and Achieve Sustainability Goals - This document describes how contracting can address problems that inhibit building project teams from achieving aggressive sustainability goals.
  • Factor Ten Engineering - RMI’s Factor Ten Engineering initiative demonstrates that very large energy and resource savings can be very profitable across a wide range of applications. Factor Ten Engineering uses such innovations to transform design and engineering practice, via whole-system thinking and integrative design.

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BUILDING ENERGY TRANSPARENCY & BENCHMARKING

Understanding how a building and the occupants use energy can lead to actions that save energy, whether it’s a major building retrofit or merely turning off equipment and lights at the end of the day. Benchmarking your buildings with others is useful for setting reduction targets. The following resources will help you make energy use transparent and set reduction targets, and can reveal strategies for reducing energy use.

  • EnergyStar Portfolio Manager - Portfolio Manager is a widely used energy management tool that helps you to track and assess water and energy consumption across your entire buildings portfolio. An interactive online tool, Portfolio Manager can help owners, managers, investors identify under-performing buildings, set investment priorities, verify efficiency improvements, and receive recognition for superior energy performance.
  • IFMA Sustainability How-To Guide: Portfolio Manager - This guide is a comprehensive, in-depth exploration of ENERGY STAR's Measurement and Tracking Tool: Portfolio Manager.
  • Waltz Building Performance Metrics - Redistributed by permission from James Waltz, this list shows common building performance metrics and a range of typical values based on his extensive experience in auditing and modeling.
  • EnergyIQ - EnergyIQ is a benchmarking tool for non-residential buildings that also provides recommendations for efficiency improvement. Owners, managers, and retrofit practitioners can use the tool, which is publically available online, to identify under-performing buildings and improvement opportunities, helping to prioritize buildings for deeper levels of analysis.
  • Honest Buildings - Honest Buildings is a social networking site that brings together building service providers, occupants, owners, and other stakeholders who can then exchange information, offerings, and needs. It enables a new kind of building transparency that may lead to better and more sustainable buildings.

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LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an internationally recognized multi-step procedure for calculating the lifetime environmental impact of a product or service. The complete LCA process includes a goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation. The following are tools and reports related to LCA and buildings.

  • The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse - Preservation Green Lab’s recently released report compares the reuse of existing buildings to demolition and new construction by using life cycle assessment, an internationally recognized approach to evaluating the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with products and services throughout their respective life cycles.
  • Green Footstep - Green Footstep is an online carbon assessment tool that reveals the design targets required to achieve carbon neutrality, net zero site energy, and other goals, and can be used on residential and commercial new and retrofit building construction projects, from pre-design through occupancy.
  • The Athena EcoCalculator - The EcoCalculator is developed by Athena Sustainable Materials Institute. It is a structured Excel spreadsheet workbook, with worksheet tabs for various categories of structural assemblies (columns and beams, floors, etc.). On each worksheet, find the specific assemblies in your building project and simply enter the total square footage of each.
  • The Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment Tool - The Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) method estimates the materials and energy resources required for, and the environmental emissions resulting from, activities in our economy. Results from using the EIO-LCA on-line tool provide guidance on the relative impacts of different types of products, materials, services, or industries with respect to resource use and emissions throughout the supply chain.

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