Software models buildings’ energy use

Leon Glicksman, MIT professor of building technology and mechanical engineering, has developed a simple, open-source web application that performs a basic analysis of a proposed building’s energy usage in just a few minutes.

The application, Design Advisor, has been available online for about five years but has recently received its most significant upgrade.

Previously the software would only analyse an individual floor of a building, but a new component adds an analysis of the roof as well.

Now the resulting information gives a relatively complete picture of the entire building’s likely energy needs and performance, as well as the comfort of its occupants in different parts of a room, at different times of the day and in different seasons.

While many architectural firms use sophisticated software to perform more detailed analyses of buildings they design, these programs require more extensive training and take longer to use.

Comparisons Glicksman’s team made between the leading programs and Design Advisor have shown good correlation in the results produced, to within about 10 per cent.

Detailed charts of these comparisons are available on the Design Advisor website so that users can evaluate the accuracy for themselves.

The Design Advisor, however, should not be thought of as a substitute for the more sophisticated software used by architects, such as a program called Energy Plus developed by the US Department of Energy.

Such programs, which often lack the graphical interface that makes programs such as Design Advisor suitable for inexperienced users, have much more detailed capabilities for modelling complex building designs.

Design Advisor was created for use at the early stages of a design, when so many variables are undefined that it is often difficult to create a detailed model for the more advanced programs.

The faster setup of the simple program makes it possible to try many variations and see which factors seem to make the biggest difference in a building’s energy use and comfort levels.