How does BIM improve sustainability?

BIM improves sustainability
Written by Camille Dervin
BIM
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January 18, 2023

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As the environmental impact is being felt heavily across the world, the need for a more sustainable future becomes ever more apparent! But what does that mean exactly, and how does it apply to the construction industry? 

The term “sustainability” refers to the idea of harnessing the power of the earth’s natural resources so that future generations can prosper. The search for renewable energy is considered by many to be the most important undertaking in modern science! Old-fashioned methods of energy extraction have had detrimental effects on planet earth! Carbon emissions are out of control, the temperature of the planet has risen dramatically, and sea levels are rising faster than ever before. It’s safe to say that something needs to change, and quickly! 

How is sustainability defined within construction?

A report commissioned by The International Energy Agency’s Tracking Buildings 2021 estimated that buildings alone are responsible for 37% of all global energy and carbon emissions. A whopping 10% of this figure is simply due to the manufacture of construction materials. As new homes, offices, restaurants, sports arenas, and more continue to be constructed, it’s clear how important the construction industry’s role is in creating a greener, more sustainable future!

As the construction industry attempts to adapt, sustainable building practices focus on using techniques and materials to decrease waste, conserve energy and water, and minimise pollution. Achieving this, however, requires adopting the latest and greatest technology! Building information modelling (BIM) has been revolutionary for the construction industry in more ways than one. But can it help in the fight to improve sustainability?

Can BIM save the world?

The collaborative and cost-saving benefits of BIM have been well documented by now. However, its impact on sustainable construction practices could be its most significant contribution!

Building green is the key to reducing our carbon footprint! It’s only right that new construction projects must be planned and designed with sustainability as a major priority. BIM provides answers to many of the major environmental problems caused by the building industry. Beginning with the design process, we’ve highlighted the most significant ways BIM can improve sustainability throughout the entire lifecycle of a project, to help achieve a greener future!

How BIM improves sustainability 

Design Phase

During pre-construction, architects and designers can visualise their buildings long before a brick has ever been laid! The 3D BIM models give architects the relevant information they need to make decisions based on efficiency. They can use the data to introduce energy-saving measures and improvements at any stage during the project’s life cycle!

Utilising BIM in the design phase gives the building a greater chance of achieving LEED certification status (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED-certified buildings are among the most sustainable structures on earth and should be the goal of every new construction project! 

Accurate modelling

The incredibly sophisticated and detailed models provided by BIM can help designers to optimise sustainability measures throughout the entire building. Factors such as ventilation, indoor air quality, and heat transfer can literally be seen on a screen! What’s more, modifications to the design can be made instantly if the results aren’t as expected, saving precious hours and allowing the project to move forward swiftly.

BIM models also have a major influence on new and innovative energy-saving solutions. One example of this is passive-solar design! Daylighting measures can be enhanced by simulating different window layouts using BIM’s 3D modelling software. The accuracy of the models can establish how much natural light is admitted to offset the number of active heating systems needed!

Sustainable building materials

A major aspect of the design process is choosing the right construction materials. BIM can assist in choosing the most sustainable materials with a lower environmental impact! It helps make environmentally friendly product selections by analysing the potential for global warming of various materials. 

Nowadays, there is a greater opportunity to use recycled materials in new construction projects. BIM can highlight areas where this may be possible! Producing more eco-friendly buildings would significantly lower carbon emissions and improve sustainability around the world.  

Construction Phase

Once the designs have been drawn up, analysed, and signed off, it’s time for construction to begin! Arguably, this phase generates the largest visible impact on the environment. Every time a piece of machinery is switched on, a screw gets wasted, and every extra hour added to the project increases the size of the carbon footprint. 

The implementation of BIM encourages more sustainable construction practices in a variety of ways! Sustainability is more than just using a few recycled materials. BIM technology can help create a culture of sustainability within the construction industry that future generations can benefit from.  

Reduced wastage

Did you know that almost 30% of all building materials entering a construction site go to waste? Hundreds of millions of tonnes of bricks, wood, drywall, and more end up in landfills across the world every year. This makes the construction industry one of the biggest contributors to waste in any industry! However, BIM can help reduce this number significantly. 

Poor cost estimating and human error are some common causes of excess waste. BIM systems accurately calculate the required quantities of materials, preventing over-ordering and unnecessary waste. 

Additionally, prefabricating fixtures in an offsite facility further improve sustainability. As a result of fewer deliveries to the construction site, less waste will need to be removed from it. Constructing off-site also allows offcuts of materials to be reused and recycled! A greener, cleaner construction site will see lower amounts of fumes, dust, and chemicals being released into the atmosphere. 

Faster building schedules 

No doubt implementing a BIM workflow speeds up overall project delivery times! Design and construction teams collaborate efficiently and communicate better thanks to BIM. The less time a project takes to complete, the less impact it has on the environment in terms of energy consumption, noise pollution, and machinery. 

BIM streamlines every aspect of the building project and delivers greater efficiency across the board! Building design data is stored in one central location, meaning changes can be made instantly without having to redraw a set of blueprints. All stakeholders can access the data and discuss modifications or improvements without the need to arrange a lengthy meeting or wait for authorisation! 

Orders for materials can be made and prepared well in advance of construction, saving time and energy when it comes to being fitted together. Energy-efficient measures like these drive sustainable building practices forward and prove that BIM has an essential role to play.

Future Maintenance

After construction has been completed, BIM remains critical to the ongoing maintenance of the building. In the past, once a building was open for business, contractors had very little else to do. However, thanks to the high level of detail provided by the BIM models, a great deal of useful information can now be passed on to building managers. 

They can ensure building performance is monitored and recorded, updating the BIM data when necessary. Better decisions can be made to maximise the sustainability of the building, potentially extending the lifecycle of the structure.

Renovation and development

Traditionally, any changes or renovations to a building would require endless surveys, investigations, and planning, costing time and money! Very often, renovations are recommended even when they’re not needed, causing pointless damage to the surrounding environment. 

Information from the BIM data now means refurbishments are made only when necessary. Additionally, renovations can be planned out well in advance to coincide with other essential developments, minimising costs and the negative effects they have on the environment.  

Reduces energy costs 

BIM can be used to monitor the energy efficiency of a building throughout its life. It can track aspects such as energy use and water consumption to ensure the building is operating as it should be. From this information, managers can make informed decisions that can lead to lower operating costs and a more sustainable building. 

Conclusion

Sustainability is at the top of the agenda for every industry these days, particularly construction, and for good reason! Wastage figures and emission levels are already critical, meaning radical change needs to take place. 

BIM has proven to improve upon many of the environmental issues concerning construction! It offers greater transparency during the building design phase as every stakeholder can input their expertise early on in the process. It promotes higher efficiency throughout the construction process with accurate scheduling and ordering capabilities. BIM also provides building managers with more control during the operational phase. By tracking energy use they’re able to make decisions that can have a positive effect on sustainability going forward.  

BIM technology is readily available right now to ensure future generations can flourish and our buildings are as environmentally friendly as possible. So, why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?

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