The Greening of BIM

The Greening of BIM

During the last several years, Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been a popular topic of discussion. While it is highlighted in many high-profile projects, it is equally effective on more everyday buildings. This has also been the case with discussions around green buildings and LEED certification. There's a reason that this is the case. Generally, larger projects are the only ones that can afford the investment in education, infrastructure, process development and critical thought BIM usually requires.

The duration and budget of a larger project allows for tremendous returns on this investment. Additionally, it's an easier task to achieve consensus from the project teams to collaborate in a less traditional manner on a high-profile project. Fundamentally, we must reduce waste during the construction and operation of buildings of all sizes and types, not just the ones that make the cover of a magazine.

Some recent reports show that a cost differential as small as 2 percent in increased construction costs results in savings of more than 10 times that investment in reduced energy consumption, waste management, and other costs of operation. This doesn't even factor in the reduced waste of both time and materials during the construction process. We must provide BIM and green building methods to projects of all types and sizes to truly make an impact on our environment.

An integrated approach to BIM involves creating and analyzing a multi-disciplined (architecture-structural-mechanical-electrical-plumbing) BIM from a constructability perspective. While many firms are utilizing BIM during design (design intent), in most cases the design community is not utilizing BIM for constructability. The builder community is in some cases recreating the BIM from construction drawings (build-intent), but it may be too late to make design changes. The creation of an integrated BIM (iBIM) prior to builder involvement can be critical to understand opportunities to mitigate both risk and waste prior to publishing a bid set. Understanding the budgetary risks and opportunities prior to bid allows owners to make educated, fact-based decisions.

The creation of large amounts of data is part of creating an iBIM. Although large volumes of data are useful, the analysis and presentment of the data is invaluable. The distillation of this data into information that the design team and owner can use to make real decisions is vital. In most cases when an owner is presented data and facts, making a decision to go green is straightforward. Presenting an iBIM to an owner expedites the decision process. iBIM is a welcome change in efficiently and effectively building green because it allows decision makers to more comprehensively understand their green alternatives and associated cost/benefits much earlier in the design process, compared with the traditional process of trying to retrofit green products when well into the process.

The greatest challenge to the design community is understanding the cost to deliver an iBIM on projects of all building types and sizes. In most cases, to create an iBIM it should cost 25 cents to 30 cents per square foot. This is incrementally inexpensive considering that owners can quickly see the impact of various components of the building, quickly change the design to create a greener building, and ensure that it's within budget.

At the end of the day, construction projects that are designed using iBIM can be environmentally friendly, safer, and take less time and money to build compared to traditional ways of designing buildings. Creating more green buildings is one of the real estate industry's most pressing issues right now. While being "good for the environment" may not be persuasive enough to drive businesses and organizations to build green, reducing the costs of building using iBIM may be the catalyst that drives increasing environmental responsibility in the real estate industry.

K.P. Reddy, president and CEO of RCMS Group in Atlanta, Ga., is a nationally recognized expert, adviser and speaker on construction technologies, including Building Information Modeling (BIM). This column originally appeared in Environmental Design + Construction magazine.