One of the cornerstones of my architectural design philosophy is taking cues from the climate. Whenever I start a new project, I explore the surrounding environment to determine a building’s best possible orientation, aspect ratio, and how to maximize shade. Many of the decisions I make are based on the quantitative validation of my own qualitative experience and training. With the Energos module in Vectorworks 2016 software, I have a new, powerful, active tool that gives me feedback on my design’s energy efficiency in real-time as I evolve the project model.
The passive and active energy strategies appropriate to an architectural design are expressions of the climate it inhabits. The most direct way to determine the effectiveness of a given strategy or which design approach to use is to pull data from your model. Information-rich 3D models inherently contain data that can inform your design decisions. Vectorworks software, in particular, is useful for this thanks to its advanced suite of standard and customizable tools: worksheets, dynamic site modeling, and Heliodon sun/shade studies, to name a few. Custom worksheets are especially helpful for things like rainwater harvesting and passive ventilation calculations because they take the information for the formulas straight from your design. In previous versions of the software, I would take this data that I collected and use my own experience and intuition to take a first pass at climate-sensitive design. Energos adds a whole new layer to this design process. Instead of estimating the energy efficiency of my designs, Energos provides quantitative feedback about my model in the form of a color-coded gradient, from most energy-efficient (green) to least (red).
The real benefit of Energos is that it is responsive. With every update or change to your model, you know quantitatively whether or not that shift in orientation or additional shading improved your project’s energy performance. The building envelope calculations in Energos are great, too, and were very helpful on the project that I’ve completed with Energos so far: Hope House. This non-profit started decades ago as a home for children born with serious mental and physical disabilities. Fast forward to today, when medical advances enable residents to lead longer lives, and there’s a need for adult housing. The team at Hope House commissioned a residential duplex for their adult residents, and after meeting with the employees and the residents and learning about the organization’s mission, I was absolutely on board to design this project.
One thing I’ve learned over the years about nonprofits is that it’s much easier for them to fundraise for capital improvements like a new facility, but it’s harder to sustain that flow of money to pay for day-to-day operations, like maintenance, lighting, and air conditioning, once the structure is built. That’s why Energos was so helpful; it helped me to ensure that the building envelope is as efficient as possible, so Hope House can spend more of its money on caring for its residents rather than worrying about paying the electric bill. After several design iterations, I used Energos to more closely investigate alternative design solutions for the building envelope. By modeling some cost-effective, insulated sheathing, my Energos rating improved for both overall insulation and thermal bridging, which will save Hope House money down the line.
In my experience, the Energos module has been easy to use. You can adjust the settings for detailed or streamlined energy modeling based on your familiarity with energy analysis. It’s important to note that entering flawed data will yield incorrect results, so avoid getting too detailed if you don’t understand the underlying science behind energy modeling as you might not even notice that your results are off. Another important distinction is that Energos is a design tool, not a certification process. The data you get from it won’t get you a LEED certification, but it can assist in designing more energy efficiently, which at the end of the day is the real goal. The value of Energos is that it lets you check your design decisions as you make them throughout the design process, validating your ideas or helping you to refine them. Just like the other great tools in Vectorworks software, Energos helps me make informed choices about my options as I’m exploring my design.