How can BIM enable Low Carbon solutions?

by Lewis Johnson | March 4 2022|  5 min read

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The low carbon technology moniker has in recent times become a buzz word stuck to and associated with as many projects as possible. This is not unique for the construction industry and certainly not for anyone that works around BIM – think digital twin or IoT!

The differentiator with low carbon technology is the immediate importance and the wholescale push from both industry and the UK Government to increase development and usage of new technology.

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener, released in 2021, identified the requirements and proposals for all sectors to be net zero carbon by 2050.

This strategy refers to everything from subsidies for wind turbines in the North Sea to deploying engineered carbon removal solutions. And for the construction industry in particular this is supplemented with the Heat and Buildings Strategy, which sets out the plan to decarbonise commercial, industrial, residential and public sector building.

This second document more specifically references the challenges of the construction industry but does little to examine the opportunities for digital technology and BIM to disrupt and challenge the status quo.

So how can BIM processes and digital technology improve the environmental outcomes of our buildings?

There may not be a straightforward answer, however, as with many things related to BIM, there are an abundance of clever ways we can work, collaboratively, to achieve positive results:

  • Front loading the preliminary design of a building to reduce the chances of late-stage design change
  • Ensuring that digital information of construction components contain environmental information in a collaborative format
  • Collaborating with Building Services engineers earlier in the process to make design decisions which are positive for low carbon and renewable technology

Front loading the design of a building has always heralded to benefit further from the introduction of 3D models and clash detection. If, as an industry, we can digitally create the building sooner, there is an opportunity to identify and rectify design issues ahead of the construction phase. This is where the benefits of BIM begin to be realised.

Starting to digitise the project from the very beginning means we can maintain greater control and maximise on efficiencies. The best solutions and designs are often removed from possibility if late stage design changes are required. For example, increases in heat loss due to last minute changes in insulation choices could have a negative impact on the overall energy performance outputs of the building.  

This is also true for client integration, working with clients from an early stage to understand their needs prevents changes at a more critical later stage. The use of BIM and digital design tools provide an opportunity to get ahead of the design curve and rectify issues digitally before they have been built in the physical world.

When looking at building materials, better and more strict specification of products can lower the building’s carbon footprint whilst simultaneously increasing its performance. Ensuring that high u-value and low carbon materials are selected at design stage is key to preventing on site value engineering from wiping out environmental gains.

The best way to make this clear in all construction documentation, is to ensure that the materials we want are clearly specified and project models are created without generic components – as well as ensuring all environmental or material information is stored within the model.

Having better quality information will also assist if working with off site manufacture or pre-fabrication specialists. Being able to provide information in a collaborative format at an early stage makes the chances of positive outcomes much more likely.

To be successful in any building project both collaboration and implementing digital construction methodologies are essential. This allows us to make better design decision and materials choices that both increase the energy efficiency of the building and reduce the embodied carbon across the entire project.

The UK Government’s aim for a net zero future has been written, the constructions industry’s future pathway to achieve this goal is not. We have a huge opportunity here to make a better world for us all.

Using BIM process and digital technology can be the differentiator to turning traditional carbon intensive, wasteful and sub-optimally designed buildings into high performing, low carbon construction projects of the future.

If you’d like to know more about BIM Academy’s work in Low Carbon solutions contact Lewis Johnson at [email protected]