Utilizing BIM for Sustainable Architecture

An analysis and continuation of my graduate thesis at the University of Texas at Austin.

Posts Tagged ‘Affordable Housing’

AIA Article on Green Affordable Housing

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 27, 2010

The Greening of America’s Public Housing: More Options, More Technologies, More Support” by Mike Singer.  This article discusses the growing interest by affordable housing developers to specify “green materials and energy-efficient technologies.”  Since affordable housing projects have long-term financing structures (they need to remain affordable over a period of “x” number of years), there is a concerted interested in utilizing durable green technologies to minimize long-term maintenance and operational costs.  Apparently, HUD has green criteria associated with its affordable housing funding, but it is voluntary compliance at the moment.  (For more information about HUD affordable/green housing funds, see my previous post).  In the case of the Alley Flat Initiative, the City of Austin has an incentive for developers/builders to meet green building criteria in exchange for waiving inspection and permitting fees.  The addition of energy-efficient buildings are in the city’s best interest, since Austin Energy is the city-owned utility company.

I’m interested to know how many of these projects have explored or are leveraging the capabilities of BIM to further improve upon affordable/sustainable goals.  I discuss the potential benefits of BIM in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 of my thesis as a means for reducing hard/soft project costs and for performing a wide array of analysis to improve overall energy/resource efficiency.  Perhaps, along with requiring green building criteria, HUD could also require the use of BIM for the design/construction process – I know this would be a huge leap and could potentially stall the development of affordable/green housing since most non-profit developers and small-scale architects have still not invested in BIM technology.  Nevertheless, housing authorities and funding organizations like HUD or city governments could help to subsidize the cost of BIM tools and even help to train staff.  I’m sure BIM developers would be open to the idea of discounting software/training costs for non-profit groups.

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Posted in Affordable & 'Green' Housing, BIM & Economical Factors, BIM & Stakeholders - Communication & Workflows, BIM for Housing - What's the Argument?, Financing Structures | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Builders try to prove green homes can be affordable”

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 13, 2010

I came across this article about affordable ‘green’ housing developments in Oregon and Arizona.  This is positive news in a time of economic recession, but I’m not sure what the builders of these homes (or author) considers “affordable” – the Oregon housing development has housing units starting at $257,900 while the Arizona development begins at $174,900 – is this at least 80% MFI?  I doubt it.  The Alley Flat Initiative case study in Austin Texas, which I discuss in Chapter 4 of my thesis, has been able to achieve 60% MFI at $100,000 for a one-bedroom house.

The energy bills are estimated at $734 annually for the 1,640 square foot (smallest) Arizona development home.  This might sound impressive, until you look at the Passive House standards, which would cut utility costs down significantly (<$100 annually).  But the increase in design/construction quality would undoubtedly increase the upfront housing costs.  I believe the way to get around this dilemma is for builders/architects to work directly with local city governments and utility companies to help subsidize the cost of housing developments if they can be proven to achieve an energy efficiency target (net-zero for example).  This would enable housing to be more affordable without sacrificing quality and it would be a direct benefit to all stakeholders involved – the builder/architect can charge more for providing ‘green’ housing and the city and utility companies can reduce peak energy demand.  In addition, if builders, city governments and utility companies utilized the capacity of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for the design, construction and data collection for these housing developments – thinking about housing units as part of a greater interdependent ecosystem, rather than as individual and isolated buildings – it would assist in quantifying and tracking actual energy usage while provide a baseline for improvement.

Posted in 'Green' Design Strategies, Affordable & 'Green' Housing, BIM & Stakeholders - Communication & Workflows, BIM for Housing - What's the Argument?, Financing Structures | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thesis Excerpt: BIM for Housing?

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 7, 2010

A fifth area of research not addressed in this thesis involves comparing current BIM software tools in terms of appropriateness for affordable and sustainable housing.  In an effort to conduct thorough simulation research in a reasonable timeframe, I focused solely on Autodesk’s Revit.  However, I am not convinced that this software is necessarily the ‘right tool for the job’ with regard to the design and construction of affordable and sustainable housing.  An interesting continuation of this research might involve testing various BIM tools (i.e. Vectorworks, Revit, Microstation, and ArchiCAD) for a given affordable/sustainable housing development project and comparing how each performs in specific categories.  Eastman, et al. (2008), has already compiled a pros and cons list of various BIM platforms, but the comparisons lack a specific context, stakeholder group(s), or project type.  This further research could also help to determine to what degree the technology is influential on affordability and sustainability.

Source:  Dowhower, Justin Firuz.  Adapting Building Information Modeling (BIM) for Affordable & Sustainable Housing:  Chapter 7:  Future Research.  Austin, TX:  The University of Texas at Austin, 2010.

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Congo Street Green Initiative

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 5, 2010

This is an interesting affordable/sustainable infill housing development  – similar to the Alley Flat Initiative (AFI) in Austin Texas.  This project is managed by buildingcommunity WORKSHOP, a not-for-profit community design center in Dallas, which has partnered with the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture, CDM AmeriCorps, and The Real Estate Council.  There is more information about this initiative on their blog: <http://bcw-congo.blogspot.com/>.  Below are some images from the house currently under construction at 4533 Congo Street.

What was interesting about the Congo Street Initiative is that the homes are being built around $50-60,000 per house (this doesn’t include soft costs, which probably adds to the cost 10-15%).  The construction labor is mostly through Americorps, which is estimated to be saving about $10,000 per project.

Besides the financial aspects, I was curious about the construction quality.  The homes built so far have achieved LEED (for Homes) Gold and Platinum certification.  My assumption is that it is similar to Austin Energy’s Green Building Program and it’s five star rating system, but I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison yet to see the differences/similarities.  The materials and building systems are typical for residential construction with the exception of increased insulation (spray foam + 2 in. rigid exterior foam).  The noticeable differences are in the details, which definitely sets this housing development apart from the typical cookie-cutter spec homes.  The homes are about 70% designed by the time construction begins and the typical project time-frame is approximately 4 months (design + construction).

In terms of design technology and communication workflows, BIM is not being utilized.  I’m in the process of finding out what the design process is like for these projects and how it compares to similar initiatives like the AFI.

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