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Design Vs Actual Performance

Does the design really perform once the software model is complete and the occupants move in?

In the design space there are so many models and tools we can use to help inform the way we create our buildings. But as much as we like to put our faith in our design skills, there are lots of assumptions, model boundaries, data limitations, user errors and uncontrollable variables (like the building occupants). So while don’t really like to admit it, there is still a mild level of finger crossing when we get to review the real performance of a building in operation. At eTool we’ve put nearly four years into developing our “Life Cycle Design” methodology within the “eTool LCA” design software but we are still learning and improving.

So when we get to review our buildings a few years on and find that they are performing as predicted, we have a little mini celebration inside, and on the outside say “yep… always knew it would”. What’s really nice is to then feed that information back into the model to help refine those assumptions, boundaries, data limitations and most importantly improve the skills of  the ‘designer’.

A fantastic example of this process is ESD Australia, one of Western Australia’s leading building consultancy firms, specialising in energy and building compliance for residential and commercial developments.

With some other commercial rating systems out of reach budget wise for small commercial buildings, eTool LCA proved the perfect (and arguably more comprehensive) solution for the ESD Australia team when designing their own new office. The building design had great functionality with good service life and occupancy, combined with good material selection, high thermal performance and small scale renewable energy generation. The end result was a building that was predicted to produce more energy than it consumed with a 114% improvement in carbon footprint on a “compliant” design.

“It was great to be able to use eTool and a “Life Cycle Design” approach to see how the entire building might perform rather than just the individual elements that other rating systems focus on. Now that we’ve been operating in the building for 2 years, it’s wonderful to see the building performing as expected with a 6 NABERS rating and reaffirming our design choice,” says Daniel Smee, Director, ESD Australia.

NABERS is a government administered national rating system that provides a platform for rating commercial buildings against their performance through analysis of actual energy bills rather than a modelled design. It’s a rating out of six stars so ESD Australia’s office is considered to be “market-leading”. It shows that by utilising eTool LCA in the design process you are not only achieve fantastic outcomes but also can predict with confidence how you will perform against NABERS once built.

At eTool, we like to say “it’s better to be vaguely right rather than to be precisely wrong”. I guess what we mean is that as long as the end result is a better building than what was originally proposed then we are happy even if it’s not 100% spot on. The great thing about the process is that for every project we work on we have a lovely feedback loop that ensures that everyone who uses the “eTool LCA” design software gains from this knowledge and collectively improving the buildings we design.

So, while we will always do some finger crossing once we hand over the design to the occupants, we are enjoying the confidence that our buildings are continuing to improve and are performing better than predicted.

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