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Harnessing Autodesk’s Insight Software at “Design & Make 2024 Conference” in Las Vegas

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Ervin Architecture has maintained a long tradition in attending conferences throughout North America to give employees an opportunity to learn in an exciting setting with other industry leaders. This year we flew out to Vegas, a city whose conferences (in any industry) always offer the best in latest trends, tech, and thought leadership.

For Ervin Architecture, we attended Autodesk University: The Design & Make 2024. This is an annual conference in Vegas that is one of the largest AEC conferences in the world. Roughly 14,000 architects, engineers, and designers from companies across the world gathered for 1 week in Las Vegas to catch up with anything and everything that is cutting edge.

A staggering variety of topics is covered at this event. In particular, as our world continues to face a looming climate catastrophe with increasing urgency to remedy, how we can harness current and developing software tools to aid in our diagnosis of problems before they make a negative impact on climate change. Quite literally, software exists where you can turn what might be a negative into a powerful positive before construction even commences.

Among these powerful software tools is Autodesk Insight. But what exactly does Insight do?

  • Insight allows Architects to run advanced simulations

  • Insight generates performance building performance analysis early on in the design phase with astonishing degrees of performance accuracy

  • Insight allows early design shifts to occur without wasting a client’s money later in the process.

  • And yes, you guessed it, Insight can provide insight (see what we did there ;)) into sustainable design practices that is rooted directly in the context of an existing or proposed design

The Current Climate Discussion Now Includes Residential Design

Historically, the focus has been on initiatives for commercial buildings to embrace sustainable design strategies, given their higher consumption of energy when compared to residential buildings. However, with high up front costs, implementation of these strategies is proving to be challenging in the commercial sector hasn’t shown reliable shifts in consumption of energy. Please see our recent blog COP28 Dubai: Climate Change is “Runaway Train” Without Advanced Tech and/or Government Subsidy that discusses these issues. However, smaller scale residential strategies can make still make a impact on the environment, and save clients energy costs down the line.

Examining Embodied and Operational Carbon for Your Home

Autodesk’s Insight can give you a sobering look at the amount of damage your home is doing to the environment, and it’s quantified contribution in climate change. This is done by measuring both Embodied and Operational Carbon.

Embodied Carbon refers to all of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the materials and construction processes required to build or renovate your home. This includes everything from the mining or harvesting of raw materials, manufacturing of building products like bricks, steel, siding, and insulation, transportation of these materials to the site, and the actual construction process itself.

Operational Carbon, on the other hand, refers to the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the day-to-day use of your home. This primarily includes the energy used for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances/power. The electricity or gas you consume contributes to these emissions, depending on how green your energy sources are. Reducing operational carbon is often about enhancing energy efficiency and opting for renewable energy sources.

As architects, our goal is to design homes that minimize both types of carbon, helping you to live more sustainably and reducing your home’s carbon footprint to create as minimal an impact as possible on the environment.

So now to end the drum roll and cut to the chase: How does Autodesk Insight help us optimize carbon footprint during design? Insight can do the following:

  • Generates EC3 embodied carbon data for every building material in a project

  • Can provide operational carbon data based on heating/power sources & thermal envelope insulation values

  • Can combine both the embodied and operational carbon to convey a complete environmental impact analysis for your home design

  • Can present alternative design strategies to reduce both operational and embodied carbon

Reducing Operational Carbon Using On-Site Solar Energy Capture

One can reduce Embodied Carbon through material selection; choosing materials that don’t require as much carbon production to both extract and manufacture the product. But that’s merely a shopping exercise and much easier than the reduction of operational carbon. What are some of the best ways to reduce Operational Carbon?

  • Improving the thermal envelope through the addition of insulation, better doors, and tri-pane windows is a great start in reducing the amount of carbon emissions required to heat & cool a home. The added benefit, is that the upfront costs of insulation will save you money on your energy bills. And this should, over time, save you money. See the later section “Measuring Heating & Cooling Performance & Why That Is Useful” for more information.

  • Insight’s heating and cooling tool performs an analysis using EnergyPlus to determine potential heating and cooling loads on specific days of the year – usually, the historical coldest and hottest days of each year are looked at for your buildings location to determine the ambient temperature extremes. This analysis helps us understand how much heating and cooling will potentially cost for any given design – interior spaces can often be optimized and re-shaped for a gain in performance and efficiency by equal or lesser mechanical systems.

  • Adding renewable energy production to your home that has the capacity to reduce operational carbon so significantly over its lifetime that this savings eclipses the embodied carbon to make the solar panels, wind turbines, or ground source heat pump systems in the first place.

  • Implement passive energy reduction techniques such as positioning homes toward the sun to harness solar energy, adding thermal mass to store energy, and adding season shading approaches to reduce solar heat gain. All of these low tech approaches will reduce the amount of Operational Carbon for your home.

With Autodesk’s Insight, you can develop powerful renewable energy models for your clients. For example, let’s say you have a home that is in a valley with poor wind exposure and intermittent solar exposure. You client wants to hook up a ground source heat pump system and run it off solar panels. Insight gives you an advantage if you follow these simple steps:

  • Once you geo-locate your residential building model, add trees, and other topographical and terrain elements (typically from a survey), you run the solar study tool

  • Insight looks at the sun’s path over the course of a typical year and displays the average solar gain on every roof surface surface. It can also look at the surrounding land as well.

  • It then figures out exactly where to put solar panels/PV on your home’s roof

  • It also offers where on the property additional solar panels would provide impactful solar capture

As you can see, using Autodesk’s using Insight, an optimized solar panel setup means less energy cost for the client, as well as reduced operational carbon when compared to traditional energy sources.

Measuring Heating & Cooling Performance & Why That Is Useful

As alluded to earlier in this essay, you can reduce your operatoinal carbon but adding more R value to your thermal envelope. Autodesk Insight give you tools to develop a better thermal envelope once you make carbon reduction and improved thermal comfort goals for your home design.

The tool, called EnergyPlus, is used to determine heat loss calculations much like a mechanical engineer would do to size a heating or cooling system. Here, the tool addresses the issues in the envelope, reducing the energy, and the consequent mechanical system, required to heat and cool. This is why Architect’s eyes get wide and excited when they think there is money to be spent on insulation! 🙂

Seeing how your home performs in the context of external temperature extremes, can help the Architect and the Client understand the real world scientific argument for improvement. This scientific analysis helps takes the advocacy and/or subjectivity out of the equation and confronts both the Client and the Architect with hard data. Consequently, you can price out insulation and heating and cooling expenses and enter into an enriching dialogue on climate change, operational carbon, building construction costs, and long term home value.

Autodesk’s Insight Delivers For Architects and Clients Alike In the Residential Sphere

Autodesk’s Insight is a powerful software tool that gives our clients the most informed decisions, rooted in science, so that their home can meet and exceed their expectations. At the end of the day, that’s what we need to be doing for our clients. Our crusade should be to make our client’s lives easier, and more enriched. Where this tool really shines is where the reduction of operational and embodied carbon occurs, with an overall reduction in construction cost. Using Autodesk’s Insight to develop smart strategies, that should be the ultimate goal for our clients, and for the environment.”

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