BIM May Cost More to Plan, but Saves Construction Costs

It’s a question of sound strategy in the construction industry. Using BIM (Building Information Modelling) helps prevent construction firms from being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. Traditional CAD (computer-aided design) technology has served the industry well, but the emergence of BIM technology and 3D BIM services on the construction scene has transformed project planning to a new high. The advantages of 3D BIM modelling services and BIM coordination services are many, including overall construction cost savings, and these advantages far outweigh the initial expense involved in incorporating a BIM workflow.

BSME 1 - BL171 - BIM May Cost More to Plan, but Saves Construction Costs

So, how did CAD technology help provide design services and how does BIM differ?

Both the features and working methods are different. To represent design details in CAD, designers needed to draw many lines, polylines and geometrical shapes to represent doors, windows, walls, columns, etc. in floor plans, elevation views, cross-sections, etc. With BIM technology, the same details can be represented using 3D graphical objects with a host of properties and functions. Detailed working drawings and construction documents can thus be developed automatically with these intelligent objects.

Using CAD software packages, novices can use its tools to create 2D drawings and basic 3D models. Experienced users can develop them into complex models, and CAD software can even help find errors. Some CAD packages also create documentation, but the advantages of BIM, though, are far more extensive.

They include the following:

  • Saving Time

Using BIM software, lines and related features can be updated throughout the project, leaving designers with time to devote to the project’s creativity. Objects from a BIM menu have predefined data that can be used to calculate project costs, thermal performance, maintenance costs and structural costs, leading to considerable savings in construction time and costs, rather than discovering these costs on an ad-hoc basis for each project.

  • Reducing Errors

When there are changes in a project’s floor plans, elevations or section views, those changes are incorporated into all related project features automatically. For example, if a building façade’s finish is altered, changes are implemented automatically for the wall’s transmittance value, its cost and its structural load. Using BIM technology, mistakes can be avoided, and most importantly, all the drawings will be updated immediately with any revisions, saving overall construction costs.

  • Integrating with Design Aspects

Once a BIM model is created, data can be added that enables complete integration with :

  1. structural calculations
  2. energy performance calculations
  3. construction estimating
  4. technical installations
  5. maintenance and facility management

This feature of BIM technology saves significant effort and time, which translates into cost savings.

  • Representing Completely

A building’s design is completely represented using BIM methods. In addition to the building’s core components, BIM technology enables the design of MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) systems, helping the project team use space and resources to their best advantage. Ultimately, this results in saving construction expenses.

  • Working Simultaneously

A single database can host all the documents in a BIM environment, so that several project stakeholders can access, modify and work on the same model and save their work to the cloud. This facilitates instant updates, and there is no need to spend time searching for documents that require changes.

  • Prefabricating Components

Components can be prefabricated early in the construction process, using BIM models. In case the building design changes, the components can still be used, saving both time and money.

  • Updating Constantly

Constantly and automatically updating documents and models allows clients the freedom to check the design at any time, which can lead to quick approvals and implementation.

  • Tracking Resources

Using BIM models, it becomes easy to track the required quantity of resources during any of the design stages, improving the efficiency of the construction workflow and saving costs.

These advantages come with a cost, especially during the initial stage of establishing a BIM methodology. The BIM-enabled software options can be expensive. The new work methodology using BIM technology necessitates investment in new technology and training to use it. For smaller firms, this may seem to be an excessive and avoidable expense.

However, choosing to go the BIM way can be critical to profitable gains, and the selection of BIM software is a key factor. The current popular choice, Revit, can be used in combination with rendering and virtual reality packages to create detailed and complex models.

All aspects of a project’s workflow are affected by the BIM methodology. Therefore, training is important for everyone involved. In some cases, it may take up to 3 months to develop an understanding of BIM.

So, how can the cost of BIM be calculated?

In addition to depicting different trades in a coordinated model, BIM technology can provide much more. It can be confusing to decide how to best calculate the cost of BIM technology and services. The following factors are key considerations:

  • Services Wanted

Firms must decide what services they want, such as:

  1. BIM Modelling Services
  2. BIM Consulting Services
  3. BIM Project Management Services
  4. BIM Preconstruction Services
  5. BIM Facility Management


  • To Outsource or Not

Certain basic costs must be met for any project, such as employing a project BIM manager and coordinator, and these costs may not be easily affordable for some firms. Many consider outsourcing the required services to offshore destinations, where they can be delivered at a more affordable rate and still maintain high standards of quality.

  • Charges for BIM Methods

It’s important to understand how BIM services providers charge for their services. Two methods that are more commonly used are:

  • BIM Price per Sq.m – charges are for the built-up area of the project, based on the requested Level of Development (LOD) and the required trades.
  • BIM Price per Hour – charges are based on an estimation of the expected hours for the service for a specific scope

How does BIM save project costs in the long run? Well, these are some of the ways:

  • Effective specification of the building plan using BIM means that the right choice of building materials will be used. They will have the right thermal performance, be of the right quantity and of the right price.
  • Identifying errors at the design stage in a BIM format will cost less than rectifying them during the construction process.
  • Proper planning in a BIM process ensures that a detailed schedule of materials is generated. Suppliers can be provided a complete schedule, which means that deals can be negotiated early on and reordering can be avoided due to supplies running short.
  • Projects can be delivered within specified time schedules, using the BIM process, so that costs are saved on labour and any penalties for overshooting the delivery date.
  • Designing, detailing and estimating at the same time helps save time, which always saves money.
  • Costs associated with re-drawing, re-scheduling and re-estimating are saved using the BIM methodology.
  • Errors and data loss are minimised or even eliminated, since details and costs are updated automatically for any changes in the drawing while using BIM technology.

The advantages of using BIM are too many and too far-reaching to discount. With the right BIM service providers, a range of residential design drawings, residential construction drawings, architectural BIM services, 3D BIM modelling services and BIM coordination services can be availed at a reasonable cost, without compromising on quality. Global options for 3D BIM services offer partnerships with experienced, technically well-qualified and cost-efficient partners who will deliver on time and within budget. So, even if the initial costs for implementing a BIM methodology may be slightly expensive, it is bound to save certain construction costs in the long run.

Why Changes in Gas-Petrol Stations Impact their Architectural Design

Change is everywhere, even at gas, or petrol, or filling stations. As people and lifestyles changed with advances in technology, so did gas stations. No longer a quaint station to fill gas or petrol, these fuel retailers slowly evolved to include the several conveniences consumers expect to be available almost everywhere today. This meant that the architectural design of gas stations has had to adapt. Along with qualified and certified designers, these designs need high-quality 3D architectural visualisation services to deliver accurate retail design drawings.

There was a time when gas stations across the world used to feature a generic design, when rural petrol stations had cosy waiting rooms or featured Art Deco designs and consisted of simple layouts. Then, a series of changes, such as the transfer of large populations to dense urban conclaves, resulted in extensive and efficient public transport systems. Another change had to do with what humans were doing to the planet in terms of the rampant and irresponsible use of fossil fuels, resulting in the development of electric alternatives. Both these changes meant that there would be a difference in the number of people using gas stations to fill fuel in their cars. As the services offered by gas stations changed, the design of gas stations was bound to follow suit.

BL152- Why Changes in Gas-Petrol Stations Impact their Architectural Design

Electric cars are appearing in cities with regular frequency and are finding charging points at gas stations, where the idea is to charge the electric vehicle in 30 minutes. In addition, cafes, supermarkets, lounges with high-speed internet and information hubs for electric vehicle maintenance can also be featured at modern gas stations.

As the population of electric cars increase, they may have their own charging stations and thus become a new kind of gas station. This will lead to decreased traffic at downtown gas stations, due to more people charging their cars at offices and homes. It has even been proposed that retro drive-in restaurant cinemas can be attached to vehicle charging points.

Architectural design will have to consider new plot sizes, infrastructure, aesthetics and locations that straddle both urban and rural areas. The possibilities for design to incorporate retail and improve user experience are almost endless.

Changes in Fuel Retail

Trends that have caused an upheaval in fuel retail stations are as follows:

  • Increasing popularity of alternative fuels, such as electricity
  • New kinds of transport
  • Increased expectations by consumers, who want the availability of modern conveniences
  • Arrival of new digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) to robotics to the Internet of Things (IoT).

These trends must be catered to in architectural design, and digital tools can be used to alter layouts of the new gas stations. The gas station business model now has to adopt a customer-centric plan rather than the vehicle-centric one. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and automation can all help further the cause.

Alternative fuels are also being developed with the assistance of established car manufacturers, such as:

  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
  • Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)
  • Compressed natural gas (CNG)

These fuel options may still require a traditional fuel retailer, unlike electric vehicles, which means there is yet another factor to be considered in architectural design.

Major car manufacturers, taxi services and even IT giants are keen on developing driverless, fully automated cars. Such cars can be refueled or recharged when the vehicles do not have passengers and are outside urban areas. These cars will need refueling stations with a specific kind of architectural design.

As it may take longer to manufacture electric trucks and other heavy-duty electric vehicles, they will continue to need gas stations on highways and other locations for some time. Also, those using electric cars may stop on highways for other necessities, such as food, toiletries, etc. Unstaffed service stations offering conveniences and discounts are also becoming popular, driving architectural design to adapt so that they can offer these services.

Today’s gas stations offer:

  • Fuel and services for vehicles
  • Products, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, vehicle products, vehicle maintenance services, car wash
  • Coffee, snacks, consumer products

Customers are beginning to expect more though.

Consumer Expectations

The customer is king, and while designing gas stations, the king must be provided for. Today’s kings seek:

  • Fresh, healthy food options
  • Attractive store formats
  • Personalised products and services
  • Self-service checkouts

To facilitate these requirements, fuel retailers collect customer data to understand their preferences. The challenge will lie in other, more advanced retailers, who will offer purchases in a faster and easier manner. Some of these methods include:

  • Voice-activated shopping, facilitated by IoT and AI
  • Unstaffed retail outlets
  • Walk-in vending machines
  • Integration of online and offline shopping
  • Automated checkouts

To compete, fuel retailers must match these conveniences by creating space for them in their architectural designs. It is important to create a shopping experience for customers that is digitally enabled, making check-outs a seamless experience.

What can gas stations do to adapt to these changing scenarios?

  • Focus on existing conveniences and offer new services
  • Transform networks and assets
  • Develop new skills and expertise
  • Build new asset base by developing a series of partnerships

To improve the customer experience, digital technology can be utilised to enhance loyalty programmes and payment gateways, providing information on promotions and how they can be paid for on mobiles. Gas stations have several services to offer customers, including:

  • Monitor cars for tune-ups, repairs, cleaning, etc. with predictive maintenance solutions.
  • Connect car owners with firms that service vehicles and companies that offer financial products, mobility services, entertainment and e-commerce.
  • In urban locations, gas station stores need to offer a higher variety of consumer goods than was previously offered.
  • On highways, traditional stores will suffice, with food that can be packed, and rest areas should be available.
  • Fuel trucks that can deliver fuel to stranded motorists
  • Warehouses for last-mile deliveries
  • Drones, AVs, robots and digital counters to help deliver customised products and digital solutions to consumers

Gas stations, or fuel retailers, need to innovate with digital technology and other measures to remain relevant in the changing environment of today’s world and possibly the future. The architectural design of these fuel retailers requires intelligent and informed thought. Architectural firms employed by fuel retailers must have access to accurate 3D architectural visualisation services by experienced firms with expertise in Building Information Modelling, or BIM modelling services. Using Revit software, architectural design firms and fuel retailers can choose BIM outsourcing as a cost-effective and reliable option for retail design drawings in Revit BIM or 3D BIM modelling to help plan their strategy in adapting to the changing nature of gas/petrol stations.

XS CAD has valuable experience providing 3D BIM modelling services and 3D architectural visualisation services for global firms.  Our range of services for building designers and contractors include retail design drawings, 3D BIM modelling and 3D rendering services for large global retail chains.

How Contractors Design Portion (CDP) Fills in the Gap

Contractors have many roles to play and many services to take care of during building construction, and one of the seldom acknowledged services they provide is that of the contractor’s design portion, or CDP. The CDP is critically important to the smooth functioning of the building’s services, as it fills in the gap between the functionality of installation drawings and as-built drawings. It provides additional design drawings for AV, security and sound masking in a building. In short, it mops up the work of the remaining design services.

AR145- How CDP Fills in the Gap

Just what are installation and as-built drawings?

Installation drawings typically include the data required by trades to install most parts of the MEP systems, such as plant rooms, data centres, ventilation systems, underfloor heating, etc. These drawings are created by consultants, contractors or subcontractors from coordinated drawings and are then submitted for approvals. They generally consist of:

  • Detailed plans
  • Sections
  • Elevations
  • 3D BIM models with components, installation information

Data in installation drawings includes: 

  • Precise positioning
  • Supports and fixings
  • Manufacturers’ shop drawing data
  • Space allowances for installation
  • Builders work in connection, eg. cutting and sealing holes, chasing block and brickwork for conduits or pipes, lifting and replacing floors, constructing plinths, etc.
  • Plant or equipment requirements
  • Service connection requirements
  • Access space for operation/maintenance requirements
  • Access requirements for access panels, decking, platforms, ladders, handrails

As-built Drawings

Changes, both minor or significant, are inevitable during construction, due to changing circumstances on site. Clients may ask for updated drawings, created from as-built surveys. Thus, as-built drawings (also known as record or ‘as constructed’ drawings) are developed, during or after construction, to record what has actually been built. As-built drawings are also required for the Health and Safety file and the operations/maintenance file presented to clients.

Contractor use red ink to mark-up changes to the ‘final construction issue’ drawings on-site, which can be used to create record drawings for the completed project. One of the specific details that MEP contractors record is under-floor cabling. Tenants tend to cut off and leave in earlier cables and then add their own cabling. In the absence of cabling records, later tenants will find the situation quite challenging.

Record drawings must be updated by facilities management teams regularly, including any modifications made to the building. If a BIM (Building Information Modelling) model was developed, it must be appropriately updated with changes before handing it over to clients.

What is CDP and how does it fill the gap?

Contractor’s design portion, or CDP, is a contract, assurance or agreement by the main contractor to take responsibility to design certain parts, or portions, of the building. Either using in-house talent or outsourcing design work to trade subcontractors, the main contractor must ensure that all the designs are coordinated.

Typically, the CDP is required when consultants cannot or have agreed not to provide BIM models for audiovisual (AV) systems, security, sound masking, etc. Main contractors need to fill the gap themselves or have specialist consultants proved electrical design services or other services and then coordinate them with existing MEP systems design.

General CDP Process 

  • Main contractor acquires building regulations approval for subcontractor designs
  • Design consultants decide when and how much of their design is entrusted to subcontractors for completion
  • Clear communication of requirements from subcontractors, including function, form and quality
  • Main contractors to include trade contractor design (scope, program, cost) as part of tender bid
  • Subcontractors provide BIM models of audiovisual (AV) systems, security, sound masking, etc.

What Main Contractors Need from Subcontractors

Different subcontractors need to provide different services to the main contractor, who then incorporates these services into the final as-built drawings. The common services are:

AV (audio-visual) Design Services 

  • Develop AV functional capabilities, designs and budgets
  • Define project requirements, with written specifications and bid form
  • Coordinate AV system design with the project team
  • Develop complete system design package, with system drawings, specifications, equipment lists, etc.
  • Create AV room layout and elevation drawings with dimensions
  • Create connection-level drawings for video, audio, control, LAN
  • Configure sound reinforcement systems
  • Design cabinet layouts, equipment rack elevations, jack field layouts
  • Test and commission AV systems for system functionality
  • Prepare and follow up on punch list documents
  • Provide and record client/user training assistance
  • Coordinate networked AV devices with the client’s IT team
  • Identify electrical circuiting, conduit and architectural work requirements as part of the final design

Details of equipment, engineering, project management and AV Integrator installation services must be given to the main contractor.

Using BIM technology can enhance the feedback of security system functioning. The BIM models can be used to locate specific system devices and coordinate them with other devices, so that every system device is properly placed, connected and can be analysed for performance. Security systems can be integrated with the building’s other operating systems for the main contractor to analyse how the security system functions in its space and with relation to the people in that space.

Security (CCTV/Access Control) Design Services 

  • Provide bid documents, supporting drawings, a bid form
  • Develop proposals evaluations, with comparative bid analysis, recommendations
  • Create shop drawing submission reviews

Sound Masking Design Services 

  • Determine sound masking system requirements with the project team
  • Develop sound masking floor plans and drawings
  • Create bid documents, supporting drawings, with bid form
  • Create shop drawing submission reviews

In addition to coordinating with each subcontractor individually, the main contractor must ensure that the subcontractors coordinate with each other. For example, the MEP subcontractor must be aware of the grid system and a suspended ceiling’s fixings positions, while the ceiling subcontractor must be aware of the plant details above the ceiling for access purposes.

To conclude, the contractor’s design portion ties up all possible loose ends nice and tight. Technically certified and experienced electrical design services providers can enhance and ease the work of main contractors by providing accurate and timely design and drafting services. From moving seamlessly to fill the gap between installation drawings and as-built drawings to providing AV, security and sound masking services design, CDP makes a crucial contribution to the longevity and effectiveness of a building and its services.

XS CAD has valuable experience providing BIM MEP services, mechanical CAD drafting services and electrical design and drafting services for global firms.  Our range of services for building services contractors across the world include MEP drafting, electrical drafting and public health system drafting.


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Retail Store Design Leading to an Increase in Browsing, then Ordering Online

Touching it, holding it, trying it on – there are some unique store experiences that digital shopping cannot replace. Retail stores are still highly relevant, and the store’s design layout plays an important role in converting walk-ins to sales. In the digital age, the end point of sales has shifted, sometimes almost imperceptibly, to the process of ordering items online. A growing shopping trend is for consumers to search and view items online, visit stores to see and handle the actual product in its actual size and then order the item online, or visit what are known as brick-and-mortar houses first and go home to order the goods online. There are valid reasons why this process is becoming increasingly popular, and with the help of new technology and high-quality 3D architectural modelling and architectural rendering services, the decision-making process for consumers becomes easier.

AR136 - Retail Store Design Leading to an Increase in Browsing, then Ordering Online

Retail store layouts are well researched and well planned to maximise sales for different products. There are a few typical retail store layouts that are repeatedly used, depending on the shape and size of the store and the products sold there. In general, grocery stores use grid layouts for easy navigation and the predictability factor. When businesses want to highlight different products, such as in boutiques, more creative layouts are used.

Retail Floor Plans



Also called a straight layout, grid floor plans feature:

  • efficient utilisation of floor space and walls
  • displays parallel to walls, maximising floor space and corners
  • easy navigation, easy to organise
  • maximum wall space for promotional and seasonal items
  • best for shelf-stocked goods, eg. books, toys, food, hardware, homeware

Used mainly in grocery and convenience stores, the grid plan layout creates a feeling of familiarity.



Also called a racetrack layout, the loop floor plan guides shoppers around the floor. Its features consist of:

  • leading shoppers on a set pathway, exposing them to all display items
  • visible perimeter walls with multiple wall and shelf displays.
  • product displays on outer walls, creative display variations in the store centre

This plan works well for apparel, accessories, toys, homeware, kitchenware, personal care products and specialty products.

Free Plan


This store layout caters for maximum creativity and can be easily modified. Its main advantages are:

  • encourages browsing
  • angled displays make shoppers slow down and examine product groupings
  • open lines of view through the floor space makes specialty displays and power walls visible and easy to guide customers to specific zones with bright accent colours and product groupings

This plan is ideal for boutiques, upscale stores, specialty stores with small inventories, highlighting special products, such as apparel, accessories, personal care, specialty brands, rather than store goods of large quantity



A diagonal store layout encourages shoppers to test or sample merchandise. Its features include:

  • easy movement between aisles while store employees can easily view shoppers
  • ideal for letting shoppers browse sample products by themselves
  • can point shoppers to a central sampling/demonstration area

This plan is preferred in electronic or technology stores, beauty and cosmetic retailers and specialty food stores.

Along with determining the most suitable floor plan for the merchandise being sold, there are a few other factors that retailers might consider.

Tips for Retail Floor Plans

  • Appropriate product quantities

More products on the sales floor has led to increased sales. However, having an excessive amount of product on the sales floor could lead to negative brand perception, especially for boutique or high-end retailers. Discount retailers can pack the shop with merchandise as part of a successful strategy. High-end stores put up only a few selected items for display to emphasise exclusivity.

  • Sufficient space between products and fixtures

Customer personal space is important, but shelves can still be packed with merchandise.

Several factors encourage online shopping today. Besides being convenient, frequently cheaper and enabling the luxury of staying at home without venturing into uncomfortable weather or traffic conditions, consumers prefer to browse at traditional outlets, or brick-and-mortar shops, to get a more realistic look and feel of the product and then make their actual purchases online. Interestingly, some digital stores are launching traditional stores in addition to their digital presence, especially apparel stores, while traditional retailers are moving to the digital arena to stay relevant. There are a host of reasons why this works well for both sellers and buyers.

  • Digitally native brands opening traditional stores

Though they started online, digital brands are expanding their reach by launching traditional stores and are predicted to continue doing so. Buyers benefit from physically handling the merchandise they see online and can make purchases at their convenience from home.

  • AR aids

Augmented reality technology is helping to bridge the digital and physical divides. Large brands, especially in furniture, have begun to include AR features to help shoppers picture furniture in their homes. An app called Shopify helps make AR technology available to smaller brands through Shopify AR. This enables shoppers to browse for furniture in a real store and then go home and view (on their phone cameras) how merchandise, such as tables, beds, etc., will look in their homes, whether the furniture matches their home décor and then they can order online rather than revisit the store.

  • Customisation

Both e-commerce and traditional stores are increasingly providing options to customise purchases, so that consumers can buy products personalised to their needs, from personalised embroidery on jeans and jackets and even customised shoes. While visiting a retail store, shoppers can better understand how these products look and feel.

  • Searching visually

A retail trend that allows shoppers to take a photo and then search multiple sites, locate and purchase an item with just a click is powered by AI (artificial intelligence). The Lens feature of Pinterest uses this technology and the Pinterest App camera to look for visually similar pins. Retailers use high quality and current visual assets to represent their wares. Consumers can see the actual merchandise, click a picture and later locate the item online for the best possible deal.

  • Omnichannel approach

When both online and offline channels can be used for marketing and shopping, the buying experience needs to be consistent across all channels. Integrating all offline and online channels for a seamless shopping experience is something the omnichannel approach endeavours to deliver, enabling the availability of multiple channels, such as phone, desktop, laptop, tablet or a retail outlet, to make a purchase.

  • Pop-up stores

New products can be marketed by temporary online and offline storefronts, which encourage shoppers to sample and buy these products, generate a social presence and help collect consumer data.

  • Same-day delivery

Using drones, delivery robot startups or by other means, some brands deliver orders within a day, making shopping online as prompt as offline shopping. When shoppers are faced with retail stores not having the merchandise of choice in store, they can browse other stores and then go home to order online and still expect to have the item delivered on the same day.

  • Google hopping

Shoppers can browse, compare and buy items from different retailers without visiting individual websites by using Google Shopping.

In today’s world, consumers are able to conduct in-depth product research before they decide what to buy and from where. The layout design of a retail store can directly affect store traffic, staying time and ultimately sales. In the age of digital stores, retail store design still holds significant relevance, and it is important to devote time and resources to maximise profits. Layouts, displays and merchandise must adapt to new trends and concepts. As new technological advances and software tools, such as Revit BIM, become increasingly used, it may be wise for retail stores and chains to find reliable BIM service providers who can deliver accurate Revit Architecture services and 3D CAD modelling services that will assist their profitable offline and online presence.


Why Is Power Factor Correction So Important for Green Buildings?

Going ‘green’ is an ideal concept that is fast becoming a necessity, rather than a preferred option. In the global construction industry, there is an increasing drive to find means to integrate ‘green’ practices into building services. One of the prime areas where this can occur is in the field of building power consumption. In addition to using various alternative power sources, the efficient functioning of electronic appliances is critical. The extent of efficiency in electronic appliance functioning is further dependent on power quality, which is improved by power factor correction. With precise electrical design services, specifically electrical drafting services, and the use of active harmonic filters, smart MEP (M&E) engineering design for building services can contribute to the longevity of electronic equipment, resulting in decreased power consumption and reduced costs.

BL122 - Why Is Power Factor Correction So Important for Green Buildings

So, what is power factor correction?

Typically using capacitors to offset inductive loads, such as those produced by motors, power factor correction (PFC) tries to improve power factor and thus power quality. Ideally, a system should use all the power drawn from its source to perform useful work. This can happen if the current is in phase with the voltage. If a variation exists between the two, some of the energy from the AC mains is lost and does not perform work.

A measure of the effectiveness of using incoming power in electrical or electronic equipment is known as power factor. The technique of PFC attempts to achieve a power factor of 1 for any system, although most appliances will function effectively at a power factor of 0.95 also. Power factor is also known as the ratio of Real to Apparent power, terms which can be defined as follows:

  • Real power – power used to actually run equipment, perform work
  • Reactive power – power required by certain equipment, such as motors, relays, transformers, to create a magnetic field for the operation of the equipment, but does not perform work
  • Apparent power – vector sum of Real and Reactive power, total power needed to run the equipment

The efficient functioning of the power supply is increased with the use of PFC systems, resulting in cost savings on electrical consumption and supporting green architecture.

There are a number of reasons why the process of PFC may be needed, such as:

  • Failure of motors
  • Failure of electrical or electronic equipment or appliances
  • Continuous overheating of transformers, switchgear and cabling
  • Continuous and random tripping of fuses/circuit breakers
  • Equipment operation that is unstable
  • Increasing and undetermined high energy use and costs

Electrical equipment can become unstable and fail to work when the power factor is deemed poor. A system with a power factor of less than 90 percent will need power factor correction. Systems with poor power factors incur heavy energy costs, as an increased amount of current is needed to execute the same amount of work. Thus, improving power quality reduces power distribution system loads, reduces load on switching gear and cables, reduces costs.

To maintain systems that require power factor correction, the following levels should be regularly monitored, ideally every 6 months:

  • Power load reduction
  • Voltage levels
  • Harmonic content
  • Equipment condition
  • Functional operation

Now, traditionally, PFC equipment used a bank of capacitors to help reduce the total amount of electrical demand. The capacitors would offset an inductive load, or it would offset reactors in case of capacitive loads.

Enter the harmonic filter. A harmonic filter eliminates unwanted harmonics in electrical systems produced by non-linear loads, thus improving the performance of the equipment and reducing energy costs. Harmonic filtering is useful when the following situations occur:

  • Transformers, motors and conductors overheat
  • Generators show instability
  • Capacitors fail
  • Fuses and circuit breakers keep tripping
  • Drive failure/damage of sensitive electronic equipment
  • Increase in energy costs

Non-linear loads, such as uninterrupted power supplies (UPS), low-energy lighting and switched mode power supplies in personal computers, cause unwanted harmonic voltages and currents. By drawing current in short pulses, rather than a smooth wave-like manner, non-linear loads generate electrical harmonics, which create currents of varying frequencies that are reflected into the system, thus twisting the AC waveform.

It is in this way, by reducing the system’s efficiency, that harmonics reduce the power quality, leading to a lower power factor and ultimately higher energy costs. Harmonic filters sieve out a system’s electrical harmonics, reducing equipment overheating, tripping of fuses and breakers, improving power quality and thus reducing energy costs. By installing resonant circuits in series or in parallel, the harmonic currents are blocked or minimised, reducing harmonic voltage distortion.

The three main types of harmonic filters are:


  • Used in industrial sites with non-linear loads more than 500kVA
  • Used in sites needing power factor correction, reduced voltage and current distortion
  • An LC circuit is installed in parallel with the non-linear load. The circuit absorbs the harmonics, eliminating it flowing into the network.


  • Used in industrial sites with non-linear loads less than 500kVA
  • Installed at sites that need reduced current distortion
  • Systems with power electronics are installed in series or parallel with non-linear loads, compensating harmonic voltage or current drawn by the load.


  • Combine the performance of active and passive filters

Harmonic filters thus contribute to ‘green’ buildings by improving power quality, improving power factors, reducing power consumption and, thus, helping leave a small carbon footprint and enabling low acquisition and life cycle costs. To enable construction to achieve a green building star rating, construction firms need to employ trusted engineering design services who are able to provide technically accurate electrical CAD drafting services. Rather than train and use in-house personnel, Western companies tend to seek cost-effective M&E services overseas. India, with its vast bank of qualified electrical engineers, is quickly becoming a preferred destination to seek expertise in power factor correction and other cutting-edge electrical design services that support green buildings.

How Building Orientation Can Help Curb Power Consumption in Commercial Buildings

Commercial buildings are not the bad guys. We need them all the time. They provide a sizeable proportion of our urban needs and services, but commercial buildings typically consume a large chunk of urban power. Studies in America have shown that the power consumed in commercial buildings account for up to 30 per cent of the total electricity consumed annually.* Reducing power consumption in commercial buildings is one of the prime objectives of green architecture, and in the last several years, various approaches have been formulated on how to achieve this. One of the more basic means to do so is to plan a building’s orientation to optimise heat gain in relation to the sun’s path and consider wind direction, thus reducing the heating/cooling load on power consumption, increasing the efficiency of building services. With the right HVAC mechanical engineering consultants and electrical design services working on an intelligently oriented building, a significantly effective energy-efficient building design can be formulated.


When we talk about commercial buildings, we refer to office buildings, hotels, hospitals, shopping malls or other buildings used for retail. In general, these buildings are multistoried and use power continuously throughout the day and sometimes through the night, contributing to greater power consumption.

Typically, commercial buildings are oriented to make the best use of street appeal, view scenic surroundings or for drainage considerations, but skyrocketing energy costs mean that designers and builders must attempt to incorporate the benefits of free solar energy into building design, with the result of reducing carbon footprints and increasing the building’s marketing value. At the same time, occupants experience the same, expected indoor comfort with reduced energy bills.

The orientation of a building affects the heating, cooling, lighting, daylight access, ventilation and views of occupants. Variations in the usage of power is determined by solar gains impacting cooling and the effect of daylight affecting the use of artificial lighting. Considering climate, low-E coatings on glazing can regulate solar heat gain. Cold climates may need passive solar gain, while hot climates may need a reduction in solar gain.

Orientation towards certain directions is advantageous during some climates. In cold climates, buildings-oriented west of north will result in increased solar gains in the afternoon, and buildings-oriented east of north will be warm during the mornings. At locations with warm climates, buildings-oriented east of north will be better positioned to capture cooling breezes. In commercial buildings, therefore, it must be determined early in the design stage when more warmth would be beneficial, depending on occupancy rates.

For commercial buildings in the Northern Hemisphere, orientation towards the sun requires the largest side of the building to face south and have the most windows, as the sun rests longer on a building’s southern walls. When windows face east or west, they allow the entry of excessive heat, making air conditioners work long and hard during the summer. They also cause issues with glare in commercial buildings. During winters, maximum exposure to daylight provides passive heat, reducing HVAC system dependency.

It’s easy to see that building orientation is ideally based on the geographical location of the building and the local climate for most of the year.

Orientation for Passive Cooling

When commercial buildings are oriented well and decisions are taken to incorporate landscape design and shading elements, passive cooling can be achieved fairly simply. Proper orientation can exclude bright, hot sun and hot winds while accessing cool breezes in certain climates. Hot, humid climates should ideally have buildings that are protected from direct sunlight and heat from nearby buildings (radiant heat). This can be achieved if landscape and adjacent buildings funnel beneficial breezes and shading is provided to all or most external walls.

How the sun travels, or its solar path, influences a building’s heat gain to a large extent. Intelligent building orientation can be crucial in passive solar construction. According to research, a ridgeline running east-west on a rectangular building is ideal. This will maximise the length of the southern side of the building, and several windows on the south will help. Due to the intensity of the summer sun, the northern side of the building ideally should have fewer windows. Of course, directions should be considered as a solar reference and not magnetic north, which varies considerably.

So, what really happens on the sun’s path?

The Truth about the Sun’s Path

Every child will tell you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If we want to be strictly accurate, this happens only on 2 days of the year, the autumnal and vernal equinoxes. During the rest of the year, things are slightly different. The Earth’s tilt on its axis means that the sun rises and sets slightly south of east and slightly south of west during the winter, and slightly north of east and slightly north of west during the summer. The angle is slight and depends on the season and how far the observer is from the equator.

What this means is that the winter sun lives in the southern sky and the summer sun lives in the northern sky, in general. For those living in the Southern Hemisphere, these directions are reversed, which means that for those in Oceania, most of South America, almost half of Africa and some parts of Asia, the winter sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, and the summer sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest.

Confusing? Not really. Building engineering designers and architects need to consider these directions, locations and seasons for best results.

Having a south-facing orientation results in shading from the summer sun, reducing solar gain but still accessing sufficient daylight to reduce energy loads associated with artificial lighting. Summer sun angles are high, while winter sun angles are low, enabling the easy entry of light and heat to a building. When buildings are oriented to the north as well, they receive sufficient amounts of indirect daylight, and solar gain, direct light and direct glare are reduced. These factors are more difficult to control if building facades face east or west, as they will then deal with the full intensity of the rising or setting sun, respectively.

In addition to the solar path, building orientation can also harness wind movement for optimum results, even having the potential to utilise wind turbines to generate power. Also, winds and wind patterns can help regulate heat gain. Prevailing winds in a geographical area are winds that blow predominantly from a certain general direction over that location. Studying, analysing and calculating wind data for certain locations can help design commercial buildings that can use summer breezes for passive cooling or protect the interiors from strong wintry winds. These calculations can even possibly prevent the pile-up of snow outside entrances.

In general, chilling winter winds originate in the north and the west. For coastal areas, breezes typically originate from onshore directions, and cold breezes blow down from the mountains to the valleys. Insulated glazing on the building’s sides can limit the effects of these winds.

What happens when builders are unable to choose building orientation?

Building orientation must be fixed on certain plots, especially if they are commercial buildings. The orientation cannot be chosen or planned. If the climate is hot and does not require heating, the site can be developed so that surrounding buildings and trees shade the walls and can channel cool breezes inside.

Excluding photovoltaic collectors and areas deliberately exposed for solar power generation, roofs can be shaded as much as possible. Windows facing east and west should be minimised or eliminated, and those that can’t be avoided should be well shaded. Unwanted heat enters through unprotected glass, so shading the glass can reduce heat gain.

Tips to Regulate Heat Gain through Orientation

Sometimes, builders can use these simple tips to regulate heat gain, depending on the climate:

  • Solar-oriented floor plan – Individual floor plans in multi-storey buildings can face the sun for maximum heat gain.
  • Tall trees for shade – Evergreen trees on the north side of the building will provide shade during the summer. However, trees can pose certain dangers, so builders must consider age, species, growth rate and canopy cover before deciding to plant new or retain existing trees on the building lot.
  • Sufficient number of windows – Too many windows can drain heat from the interior during the winter, and they can allow the entry of more heat to the interiors during the summer.
  • Angled glass – It’s not always necessary to have vertical glass. When glass is sloped to match the sun’s angle, reflection can be minimized. Insulation effects are reduced with angled glass, but possible solar gains need to be balanced with heat loss to the outdoors.

Currently, software tools can accurately calculate location-specific solar gain and seasonal thermal performance. They can rotate and animate 3D graphical models of commercial buildings with regard to the solar path.

Though street appeal and lot dimensions may ultimately limit a building’s orientation to benefit from passive solar approaches, innovative designs by HVAC mechanical engineering consultants and efficient electrical design services can result in operational energy reduction. Commercial buildings will use less energy for heating and cooling, curbing power consumption, if they are properly oriented according to their geographical location and climate. This will then result in lower power costs without compromising indoor comfort.

What Architectural Design Features Are Specific to Schools?

Nurturing, guiding, educating and preparing the minds of tomorrow for the challenges of the future, schools and their design must evolve to keep pace with societal changes. Some design features, though, are constant. Incorporating school design principles with functionality, architects and designers must be committed to careful consideration and best practice methods while designing a school. Reliable architectural CAD drafting services and accurate architectural BIM services can strengthen the impact of a well-thought out design, making it easy to edit and modify design features.

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Some of the most fundamental requirements for a school’s architectural design are integration of technology, safety and security, multipurpose areas and outdoor learning.

  • Integration of Technology

In today’s world, many children are unable to fathom a world without the internet. Modern schools must innovate so that students can access networks from any space on the campus and be able to view or present their work at any point in the school building. It becomes important to wire the entire school, even outdoor spaces.

In a relatively short space of time, screens, projectors and sound systems are moving to halls, common areas, cafeterias and even staircases, rather than stay put in classrooms. Stairways can feature carpeted student seating, overhead projectors, large screens and wireless access to lectures and presentations during project-based learning. This will prepare them for modern work environs.

  • Safety & Security

Increasingly, especially in Western countries, schools have become unwilling venues for terror acts, besides regular student bullying. To guard against intruders, schools typically have a single-entry point and limit access to outsiders. Currently, an increasing number of schools are installing double lock entries (2 locked doors to pass through) with sign-ins and video surveillance.

Helping to prevent bullying is slightly more complicated. Since most incidents of bullying occur in cafeterias, playgrounds, hallways and stairwells, away from adult supervision, school building design needs to be more open, with an increased number of windows, clear lines of sight and in some cases, transparent classroom walls, such as glass floor-to-ceiling walls. The classrooms can connect to a central collaboration space, so that teachers can see students in classrooms, hallways and collaboration spaces from anywhere on the floor.

  • Multipurpose Areas

As education and the curriculum changes in so many ways in short times, it’s important to institute spaces that can keep pace with those changes in a school building. Multipurpose areas must be flexible enough to accommodate changing modes of teaching, learning and sharing for the long term. Every part of a school must contribute in some way to learning. As hallways widen to change into classroom extension, stairs become seating spaces and walls become writing surfaces or feature TV screens with Wi-fi, these spaces are meeting the growing needs of the student population.

Previously used only as cafeterias and libraries, these spaces are morphing into hybrid theatres, media centres and workshop spaces. Educators can create instructional variety, encourage group projects and independent work areas by modifying the environment. Light chairs, beanbags, large rugs, tables of different heights and movable walls can create quiet spaces or large enclaves within a multipurpose area.

  • Outdoor Learning

Improved creation and reduced stress are proven results of outdoor learning. Outdoor learning helps students become more focused on the curriculum and test well academically. When most of the school day is spent indoors, an outdoor class with several benches, an amphitheatre or a partly covered space with Wi-Fi for presentations, individual or group work can be refreshing.

The study of science and energy generation can be made interesting and relevant when students can collect data or compare fossil fuel to solar, wind and geothermal power.

Basic Architectural Guidelines for School Design

  • Teachers and institution heads can provide their input to the architect.
  • School floors should be high enough to prevent water logging or flooding during the rains.
  • A school building that face south helps sunlight enter the classrooms during winter and shades the classrooms from the direct summer sun.
  • The building design should accommodate free air circulation, natural light, hygienic restrooms and a multipurpose area.
  • The school should provide a place for meals or refreshments, a teachers’ common room and related rest rooms, reading room and library, a visitors’ room, an office room, a headmaster’s office and a well-equipped laboratory.
  • The right amount of space must be given to classrooms, multipurpose rooms, halls, staff rooms, office rooms, common room, the library and reading rooms. Ideally, the classroom should have 600 sqft of floor area.
  • Physical education facilities must include toilets.
  • Play areas, footpaths and a bicycle parking area are required features.
  • The school campus should be attractive and stimulating.
  • School campuses must include green spaces, with trees, plants or grass.
  • The main school entrance should have overhead protection from the rain or other extreme climatic elements.

Though a classroom’s shape, interior area, wall colours, furniture layout, flooring and amount of light can significantly influence student learning, certain features are best maintained in any classroom. Classroom design should ideally include the following features:

  • Adequate space between desks
  • Many large windows, with translucent blinds to avoid glares
  • Recessed windows as protection from rain and excessive sun.
  • Hidden rain pipes
  • Rooms should have sufficient natural light.
  • Heaters/air-conditions or vents should be placed high on the walls.
  • Flooring should be water-resistant and long-lasting.
  • Entrances, exits, classroom and bathroom doorways should be planned to facilitate wheelchair use.
  • Roofs must have parapets and no chimneys.

The shape and size of a school building, including the number, size and type of classrooms, will naturally be different for each school, based on many factors, including the student and teacher populations. Building shapes are dependent on these factors, but the more popular types are as follows:

  • I Type – Have a single row of classrooms.
  • L Type – The I type has an extension that is perpendicular
  • T Type – The I type with extensions both ways on one side
  • U Type – Two I types joined on one side

Within these types of school buildings, it is important to maintain certain design standards for each part of the school. They are as follows:

  • Ceiling Heights – This varies according to the size and function of the space. Multipurpose rooms are large, and hence, they should have higher ceilings, taking into account any special equipment that will be used there. The general minimum floor-to-ceiling height of classrooms is typically 3m.
  • Wall-to-floor Ratio – Lower wall-to-floor ratios results in a more efficient building layout, but this needs to be balanced with the educational requirements of the space.
  • Room Groups – There groups of school spaces are Teaching/Learning, Administrative and Ancillary. Teaching/Learning spaces should be prioritised in terms of orientation, daylight and ventilation. The offices and multipurpose rooms should be placed so that they can be accessed without entering the Teaching/Learning areas.
  • Circulation – Students, teachers and visitors should be able to access any part of the school from any entrance without encountering congestion. Hallways should have a minimum clear width of 1.8m. Handrails on balconies or stairs should have a minimum height of 1400mm. Entrance lobbies should have a secure door to access the internal parts of the school.
  • Ventilation – Permanent wall vents, with baffles for noise, wind and rain, and windows with open sections are ideal for natural ventilation.
  • Acoustics – Ideal school acoustics should enable clear communication between teachers and students while not disrupting study activities.
  • Finishes – Non-slip, chemically and water-resistant floors are recommended. Wall finishes should be durable and easy to clean.
  • Fittings and Furniture – Those fittings which are fixed, such as sink units, hat/coat hooks, rails, blinds, shelves, white boards, blackboards and notice boards should be part of the building contract.

School design is of paramount importance for the benefit of future generations, since design has a profound impact on learning. Incorporating changing technologies, lifestyles and work environments, school design must adapt, modify and modernise to optimise their impact. To facilitate the continuous innovation of school design requires a new breed of designers and design professionals and sometimes even the aid of offshore architectural drafting solutions. In particular, countries such as India offer a wealth of talent to provide architectural CAD services that are precise, cost-effective and easily adaptable. Therefore, it is now possible to customise school design without worrying about design skills, costs and accuracy.

Fly Ash – Another Brick in the Wall for Greener Buildings

It’s a win-win equation for the construction industry and the environment, a distinct rarity. The construction industry has come under repeated fire for environmental damage in countless ways – construction waste, air, water/ soil pollution and the release of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In fact, carbon dioxide has been calculated to contribute up to 26% of all greenhouse gases* plaguing the environment. In addition to the reduction of carbon dioxide emission, the use of fly ash bricks in construction has introduced a range of environmental benefits. As the world moves towards developing green buildings, the manufacture and increasing the use of fly ash bricks in construction has the potential to effect substantial environmental change.

The basic ideology of fly ash brick technology is the manufacture of climate-friendly bricks without using coal for the process. Traditional brick-making burns large amounts of coal and results in the emission of tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Also, valuable topsoil is used for the manufacture of clay bricks. If fly ash brick use is adopted on a global scale, it has the potential to eliminate carbon emissions from the brick-making industry.

Understanding fly ash bricks – what they are made of, how they are made and how they are used – is essential to understanding the extent of their benefits. To get right into it, fly ash is an unwanted residue, resulting from coal-fired power plants. Typically, fly ash was disposed on large areas of land, resulting in both environmental damage and human health issues, especially around power plants.  An Increasing need for power drove the extensive mushrooming of coal-driven power plants, generating sizeable amounts of fly ash. Decades ago, fly ash bricks were developed without the use of coal. Fly ash is combined with lime and gypsum to produce fly ash bricks.

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These bricks can be made in a range of sizes and strengths, perfect for their use in building construction. They need less cement and mortar than clay bricks. Cement wall plastering on exterior walls is not required when using fly ash bricks, as they are grey, already have a smooth, uniform texture and absorb substantially less water than other bricks. Lighter in weight than other bricks, fly ash bricks can be easier to transport. In addition, fly ash bricks do not require to be fired in huge kilns, a process for clay brick production that requires large amounts of burning coal, which adds to the greenhouse gas effect. This means that they do not contribute to environmental pollution.

Recognising their far-reaching impact, the World Bank is supporting a project to promote fly ash brick technology by granting entrepreneurs the chance to earn carbon credit revenues. A carbon credit is a certificate declaring that a company has paid to have the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent greenhouse gas removed from the environment. More than one hundred fly ash brick plants have earned close to $3.2 million*.

So, how does it work?

Traditionally, bricks were made with clay and sand or soil moulded together and dried and burnt. Burning these bricks used a considerable quantity of fossil fuel, which then generated carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. A method called FaL-G, or Fly ash Lime-Gypsum, replaces the soil ingredient of traditional clay brick manufacture with fly ash. The bricks are made at room temperature, instead of over 2000F (for clay bricks), thus eliminating the generation of greenhouse gases. By preventing fly ash from being deposited on land, this method reduces water, air and soil pollution. In addition, human health benefits include the reduction of respiratory ailments of residents near power plants.

The quality of clay bricks had been deteriorating for some time, due to the poor quality of topsoil used to manufacture them. The FaL-G brick method has produced strong bricks. They can be created in different sizes and strengths and can speed up the construction process, while saving mortar. Here’s how:

Fly ash and water are compressed at 4000psi and then cured for 24 hours in a steam bath. The bricks are then toughened with an air-entrainment agent. Due to a high concentration of calcium oxide, the bricks can be considered self-cementing. This method saves energy and reduces mercury pollution in the environment.

Materials used to create fly ash bricks include:

  • Fly ash
  • Fine sand or stone dust
  • Lime – a source of calcium carbonate
  • Gypsum – to help shape the bricks
  • Cement – to increase cohesion and strength

Once manufactured, fly ash bricks enable a host of benefits.

Benefits of Fly Ash Bricks

  • Low absorption of water (13-15%, compared to 20% for clay bricks), thus near absence of wall dampness
  • Lightweight
  • Fuel saving
  • Reduced drying losses
  • Reduced linear drying shrinkage
  • Strength – ideal for construction
  • Clay conservation
  • Conform to IS:3102-1976 standards
  • Uniform shape, size, thus minimal plaster use
  • Gypsum plaster and plaster of Paris can be directly applied
  • Reduced need for cement mortar
  • Resistant to salinity and water seepage
  • Reduced bulk density – reduced resultant load on load-bearing walls
  • Reduced wastage of bricks, compared to clay bricks

Fly Ash Properties that Are Advantageous in Construction

  • Round shape: Fly ash particles are round, so they are easy to mix.
  • ‘Ball bearing’ effect: Fly ash particles create a lubricating action when the mix is in a plastic state.
  • Strong – Combines with free lime for increased structural strength over time.
  • Dense – Fly ash is dense, resulting in decreased permeability and increased durability
  • Resistant to the harmful effects of sulfate, mild acid, soft water and sea water.
  • Reduced drying shrinkage, due to reduced water content
  • Reduced heat generated when reacting with lime, thus reduced thermal cracking
  • Improved cohesion leads to reduced segregation, which could have caused rock pockets and blemishes

Since green buildings are also defined by their energy consumption, one of the additional advantages of using fly ash bricks is its ability to provide effective thermal insulation. This means that buildings consisting of fly ash bricks are cool in summers and warm in winters, reducing the energy consumption of the buildings.

Even sounds are more effectively absorbed, since fly ash bricks are sound absorbent and restrict sound transmission, making interiors quiet. Fly ash bricks also have high fire resistance, making them a great choice of material for fire prevention services.

All these advantages have enabled the use of fly ash bricks in factories, warehouses, power plants, as well as homes and high-rise buildings. With the right architectural CAD services support, especially from accurate, experienced and cost-effective drafting services in India, homes and other buildings around the world can be designed to effectively use fly ash bricks to their advantage in creating ‘greener’ buildings.

Chilled Beams – Why Are They Popular?

We need them for shelter, warmth or cooling, but buildings are required to be more than that these days. They need to look good, feel good and be good. By being good, we mean they need to be energy efficient. Ideally, designers or Building Services Design Consultants must plan for energy-efficient mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering design, and chilled beam technology is one of the options that hydraulics and plumbing design services offer for energy-efficient systems, with the close collusion of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) mechanical engineering consultants or .

Growing in popularity in Australia, Scandinavia, central Europe, the US and the UK now, the first stirrings of chilled beam concepts, surprisingly enough, occurred in the early 1900s. In those days, under-sill inductions units were being developed. Then, during the 1960s, water from the River Thames was used by Shell Oil Headquarters in London to cool their building (using a secondary heat exchanger in the plant room). At the time, it was both efficient and just a little bit sci-fi. The significance of this system lies in the nature of building services energy consumption.

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It is widely accepted that HVAC systems are responsible for almost half (49%) of all building services consumption. Cooling and humidification account for 3% of the total. A component of MEP systems that can reduce that percentage is always welcome. So, what’s so special about chilled beams? Just what are they?

Chilled beam systems are a specific type of air conditioning system that can both heat or cool large buildings. Funnily enough, chilled beam units appear similar to fluorescent lighting fixtures and are not necessarily always chilled. Essentially, chilled beams cool spaces using water rather than air. Copper pipes carry chilled or heated water and are passed through a ‘beam’ (a heat exchanger or radiator) which is hung a short distance from the room’s ceiling. A coil of aluminum fins on copper tubing inside a metal casing is what makes up the beam. A chilled water system cools water to between 55°F and 65°F. The beam thus cools the air around it, and the air becomes dense and moves downward. Warm air moves up from below to replace it, is cooled and then circulated back down, causing a constant flow of convection and cooling of the air in the room.

Chilled beam systems typically use three main components: air handling units (AHUs), chillers and pumps. If the system is required to provide heating, a boiler is used. These units form a ceiling-mounted HVAC system that ultimately saves energy, increases interior comfort and happens to be a quiet operator.

There are two main kinds of chilled beams – active or passive. Active chilled beams connect to a system of ducts served by a central AHU (air handling unit). This system delivers fresh air through induction nozzles. The nozzles use a heat exchanger coil to induce secondary room air. Supply air is mixed with chilled air through the ventilation nozzles. Heating in active chilled beams works the same way, delivering warm air into the living space. Heating and cooling capacity is increased with this forced circulation. Using active chilled beams results in the need for reduced energy to operate fans, due to low pressure and the reduced amount of primary air that is circulated.

Passive chilled beams circulate air through natural convection means, without using a fan. Exterior air is supplied through a separate diffuser or grille into the space. Water passing through it chills the beam and the air around it is cooled. As the surrounding air cools, it becomes denser and moves down in the room space. Warm air, which rises, then replaces the cool air. A chilled water temperature of 14-16˚C is maintained by chillers to flow through the system. The return temperature will be a few degrees warmer. The chiller works more efficiently because of the higher chilled water temperatures in chilled beam systems and lower temperature lift.

A third type of chilled beam that has made a recent entry into the industry is a multiservice chilled beam, or MSCB. These are specifically designed for each project and provide heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting and sound, fire and cable pathway services. They are typically preferred in commercial buildings in Europe.

All chilled beam systems reduce energy. The AHUs can be installed with energy-recovering devices so that energy can be recovered from the exhaust air and transferred to the supply air. Due to the higher chilled temperatures, free-cooling can be used for longer, where exterior low air temperatures can be used to chill the water. Both chilled water and hot water can, at low temperatures, be produced by air and ground source heat pumps. These heat pumps use less energy than boilers and chillers.

Saving Energy
So, what kind of savings in energy result from using chilled beams?
The potential to save energy using chilled beams may range from 20% to 50%, depending on the weather and type of building. Water is known to transfer more energy than air. The use of water in chilled beam systems result in less energy usage. Also, since heating and cooling is delivered directly to the relevant space, chilled beams help facilities reduce the energy required for ventilation fans, saving money in the process. Overall heating and cooling costs are reduced because chilled beam systems transfer outside air to interior spaces where it is needed, rather than bring it into the entire facility and then condition it.

Benefits of Chilled Beam Systems
Chilled beam systems offer other potential advantages besides energy savings, including:

  • No moving parts result in quieter operation
  • Not requiring mechanical rooms or large ducts results in an increase in available space
  • Buildings with limited space to accommodate conventional conditioning systems can be retrofitted
  • Maintenance needs are reduced, since there are no filters to maintain and beams stay dirt-free
  • Widely applicable for commercial buildings
  • Significant thermal efficiency
  • Requires less ceiling space and height than traditional systems, thus facilitating shorter buildings with the same floor space for tenants.

Further benefits may be environmental, in that recyclable materials, such as steel, aluminium and copper, can be used to manufacture chilled beams. Potential resale value is increased and the procedure for decommissioning is easier, as scrap metal merchants prefer the materials free of refrigerants and oils. Also, chilled beams contribute to long-term sustainability in both new and renovated buildings.

Typically, a conventional cooling or heating system uses forced air. A forced air system is less efficient and more expensive due to the requirement of large ducts in taller buildings. A typical chilled beam system requires less outside air to operate than a forced air system. It only needs one air change every hour and uses air from the outside air to pressurise the space. Using a forced air system, eight to ten air changes of fresh air are needed.

Also, chilled beam systems can be prefabricated off site and then installed on site, reportedly saving up to 75% in labour costs.

The diverse benefits of chilled beam systems, including long-term costs, make these systems a preferred choice for hydraulics and plumbing design services in a building’s MEP engineering design and also Building Services Coordination. With experienced and technically certified HVAC mechanical engineering consultants on board, the trend of chilled beam systems seems to be headed in the right direction for sustainable construction.

Revit Families: An Effective Tool for MEP Engineers

Families – they are integral to just about everything in life. This is doubly true for Revit families in the world of MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) engineering. The importance of Revit family creation, especially Revit MEP family creation, is paramount in Revit 3D modelling. So, what is Revit MEP family creation and how beneficial is it?

Since the Revit platform was created by Autodesk, perhaps the more relevant question is: What is Autodesk Revit MEP?

Revit MEP from Autodesk is a building information modelling (BIM) software created specifically for MEP engineers or other MEP professionals. The software enables modifications, additions and communication in intelligent models so that MEP systems, regardless of their complexity, can be precisely designed and documented in a relatively short time. An entire project can be represented as a single model created by Revit MEP and is typically stored in a single file. This way, any changes effected in one part of the model is automatically updated and modified in other parts of the model.

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What are the key benefits of using Revit MEP?

Using Revit MEP within a BIM workflow increases productivity, streamlines design and documentation and speeds up project completion from the design stage to the construction stage while automatically updating changes across the model for every single change anywhere in the model. It does so with a range of tools and features designed to improve productivity, such as Building Performance Analysis, Autodesk 360 Integration, Construction Documentation, Pressure and Flow Calculations, Pressure Loss Reports, Parametric Components, etc.

Revit MEP also reduces risks and helps create high quality designs. It can be used to develop detailed BIM-ready product models with a high level of accuracy by an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) manufacturing company, for example.

The engineering design process is streamlined with the use of a single model. The single model enables a more efficient communication of design intent before the start of construction. Building performance is improved this way, as project stakeholders can make more informed and precise decisions on design.

A thorough knowledge of creating ‘families’ and ‘types’ can positively influence the length of time it takes to create a model. Families consist of categories and sub-categories. Each category consists of individual families. For instance, consider the Sprinkler Category.

The category of Sprinkler can create several kinds of sprinklers. It is possible for families within this category to perform different functions and use different materials, which makes each of them a family ‘type’. Each family type has a graphical representation. When a specific family and individual family type is used to create a design component, it is known as an ‘instance’. Each instance has its own properties.

The parameters of an element can be changed without changing the parameters of the family type. Only the instance or element or component is affected by the change. When the parameters of the family type are changed, every instance of elements in the family type are changed.

The three main classifications of families are: system, loadable and in-place families.

System families are preinstalled families and create basic MEP elements, such as ducts and pipes. . System family settings include types for levels, grids and drawing sheets.

Loadable families are created elsewhere and then uploaded into the project. They are typically used to create MEP fixtures or other elements that be purchased, moved or fixed in and near a building. Revit MEP helps create and alter loadable families, as they are customisable. External RFA files are used to create them, and then they are loaded into the project. A loadable family with many types uses type catalogs to select a type of family. This family type can be identified and loaded into the project without loading all the family types. Specific kinds of loadable families are nested and shared families.

The third kind of families is the in-place family, which can be used to create customised elements. When a project requires a special individual element, in-place families are created with a specific geometry. The geometry of in-place families will then reference other project geometry and change itself based on the changes of the referenced geometry. Revit can create a family with a single-family type to create an in-place element.

During Revit MEP family creation, Revit 3D modelling can help analyse electrical systems, especially lighting, in a project, since a source of light has its own properties in a modelling setting. Nested families, which are families within other families, can be used to create families with multiple light sources. This is done using the host geometry of the main family. Various lighting fixtures can also be included.

Besides electrical components, Revit MEP family creation includes the creation of elements from other trades too. Some of the examples of Revit MEP family creation components, or elements, are as follows:

Revit Mechanical Family Creation

  • HVAC components
  • Pipes – valve, strainer and pipe hanger
  • Duct hangers
  • Air terminals

Revit Plumbing Family Creation

  • Pumps
  • Fixtures – urinals, wash basins, water closets
  • Valves
  • Devices – measuring devices, gauges
  • Fittings

Revit Electrical Family Creation

  • Transformers
  • Distribution boards
  • Switches and sockets
  • Fire alarm devices
  • Lighting fixtures

Revit HVAC Family Creation

  • Fan coil units
  • Air handling units
  • Fire dampers
  • Diffusers, grilles and registers
  • Fittings and valves

Revit Firefighting Family Creation

  • Sprinklers
  • Valves
  • Fittings
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Cabinets

Autodesk’s Revit is BIM software that includes MEP features and is commonly called Revit BIM, but Revit is not BIM. Revit has been created for BIM. The nice thing about BIM, well one of the nice things, is that the data that is stored in BIM throws up a few advantages for users of Revit BIM. Convenient scheduling, marketing that is exclusive, design changes that can be quickly communicated and implemented throughout a project and easy access for MEP designers are some of the advantages of using the information in BIM models.

It’s easy to see why Revit families and their creation are an effective tool for MEP engineers, but since sound technical knowledge is required to create object-based models in Revit BIM, many Western firms opt for offshore Revit modelling services when local talent is either challenging to find or too expensive to afford. Offshore modelling services developed with Revit family creation are increasingly found to be affordable, precise and delivered on time, making it the popular way to go.