The quickest and easiest to use for small to medium-sized buildings is Murray Milne's HEED and SBEED as well as Climate Consultant and Opaque, available for free at <http://www.aud.ucla.edu/energy-design-tools>. HEED and SBEED are tools that gives good quantitative comparisons for things like massing, orientation, fenestration, and so forth.
Hope that helps,
Hi Kim – we really like using SketchUp paired with the Sefaira Architecture plug-in analysis tools for early design studies like you are describing. There is a Sefaira plug-in for Revit, if you're already doing your early modeling/design in Revit. The Sefaira tools allows comparisons between multiple scenarios and kicks out fairly routine benchmarks like EUI, and heating/cooling therms. Also has some great daylighting analysis tools useful for early design when there's some flexibility with orientation and fenestration.
Sefaira Systems is an alternative offering that is more oriented to mechanical engineers as opposed to architects/building designers.
Todd A Jespersen AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Kruger Bensen Ziemer Architects, Inc.
30 W Arrellaga St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-1726 x3358
The answer really depends on what you and your team need from the software. I can add little to the list of tools already mentioned but will provide a few more details. Based on your need for Easy to use, inexpensive, and able to do "…energy performance analysis at the schematic design (or before) phase" narrows your choices down quite a bit (now that Ecotect is gone), and that would be either a Rhino/grasshopper workflow with either Honybee and Ladybug, or DIVA and Archsim, or Openstudio with Sketchup.
I would add BeOpt (https://beopt.nrel.gov/) to Professor Haglund's list of reliable tools that should be useful for any designer of small projects. BeOpt adds a parametric and optimization component to the design process. These tools are readily available, easy to learn and to use. However, BeOpt and HEED quickly become limited when dealing with increasingly complex designs, therefore limiting their use to residential and small scale projects.
Before eQUEST, I would direct you to OpenStudio (OS) as a valuable tool with much more capability for building performance analysis, but with a learning curve (https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/downloads/openstudio-0). Openstudio allows the user to take a project from conceptual massing through to detailed analysis for code compliance and Green Building credits. The software is free and geometry can be created in Sketchup. The software is able to handle complex and larger projects than HEED and BeOpt as well as providing detail and flexibility relevant to the level of analysis needed. The energy simulation engine behind OS is EnergyPlus, which will give a great deal of detail and flexibility for future energy studies if required.
eQUEST is indeed a powerful, robust, and free (http://www.doe2.com/equest/) tool as already described. However, it does have a steep learning curve and is not as flexible in exploring site or context in the early design phase.
With that stated, the two strongest tool sets for experimental, conceptual, and schematic design (even predesign) would be the Honybee and Ladybug (HB+LB) (http://www.ladybug.tools/)), and DIVA and Archsim (http://diva4rhino.com/, and http://archsim.com/) for Rhino/Grashopper both of which provide more options for early design exploration than and other standalone tools currently available. The HB+LB plugins are also available for Revit/Dynamo work flows.
There is considerable overlap between these two tool sets however, HB+LB provide more tools for climate, site, and urban microclimate analysis. As with OS, EnergyPlus is used by both HB+LB and Archsim as the simulation engine allowing for more detailed analysis in other programs or to output a usable idf file for your energy consultants. For solar and lighting simulations both HB+LB and DIVA employ Radiance as the simulation engine.
Notable drawbacks include: a copy of Rhino (or Revit) is needed in order to run these tools; the learning curve for either tool can be steep if the user is unfamiliar with the visual programing process used in Grasshopper or Dynamo; DIVA and Archsim has an added cost to purchase; the depth and detail of results can be limited to the users experience.
The benefits to these tools are that they are part of a greater network of plugins for the Rhino/Grasshopper software allowing for great flexibility in the exploration of form and context; Rhino costs less for a perpetual license than a single seat for Revit or Sefaira for a year; there is a very good chance recent architecture graduates have experience with a Rhino/Grasshopper workflow, potentially saving time and cost on the learning curve; with more experience, more detailed results can be extracted from the tools; and if the limits of the tools are reached, the E+ idf files these tools produce can be easily imported into a devoted energy simulation tool (i.e. Simergy, https://d-alchemy.com/html/products/DAProducts_Simergy.html).
My personal workflow includes DIVA/Archsim and/or HB+LB until the design is nailed down, then export the energy file (idf) to either Openstudio or, if I need fine detail and advanced optimization of building elements, to EnergyPlus where I use a combination of a text editor and (gasp!) the native EnergyPlus idf editor.
For a more comprehensive list of energy and lighting simulation tools, please refer to the BEST Directory hosted by IBPSA at https://www.buildingenergysoftwaretools.com/. There you will find all these programs and many more with links.
Hope this helps.
Kim and all,
We (LMN Architects, 150-person firm) have experimented with a variety of energy simulation software. A non-exhaustive list and our preferences are below. In general, modeling daylighting and solar studies are easier for architects to get into and can be done with some training. Analyzing single zone models like COMFEN can be a good next step, as is load analysis (how much heating and cooling is required, without designing a mechanical system). The most difficult is whole building energy modeling – eQuest, EnergyPlus, Trace Trane, etc. because someone needs to select and design a mechanical system and architects are not trained to do this. To the extent it’s easy to get results without any training, the results are not very meaningful. To the extent it takes training, it requires some investment. Training needs to include what buttons to click within software, but also what the underlying energy flows are that are being modeled.
There are 3 pieces to any energy modeling software, and each software recommendation below describes which pieces are bundled together:
An engine. This contains the math that simulates the physical world within the digital.
3d modeler. This is how you input geometry.
Graphic User Interface (GUI). This is where you click buttons to input various parameters and eventually run a simulation. Often the GUI also provides graphic outputs that you interpret to help make design decisions.
Diva for Rhino/Grasshopper is our favorite daylighting software. It is fairly easy to use, with good default inputs and tutorials. It also runs solar analysis. (GUI, uses radiance as daylighting engine, uses Rhino as 3d modeler)
COMFEN. Easy to use, hard to get a wrong answer from, generally limited to comparing fenestration, orientation, and shading. (GUI, 3d modeler, and uses EnergyPlus for the engine)
Rhino/Grasshopper/Ladybug/Honeybee + other bugs. We use Rhino and Grasshopper for early explorations already, so adding the bugs means we don’t have to spend much time translating geometry from one program to another. (Rhino is 3d modeler, Grasshopper is GUI, with various engines being used) Ecotect. now no longer available – but had great weather visualization and a variety of daylighting and load calculation abilities. (GUI, 3d modeler, and engine)
Climate Consultant. Limited to analyzing climate with Atari-quality graphics, but very useful for quick climate analysis. (no energy modeling)
Other software: Sefaira. I have had limited interactions with Sefaira. I think most architects would learn a great deal by playing with Sefaira, but I am skeptical of any results that are intended to change the design direction of a building are easy to get without any training in building energy use modeling. Before making a design change based on modeling results I’d run any results past someone with more training in energy use. (To the extent results are not intended to change the design of a building I’d ask why you are spending time with energy modeling) (Sefaira is a GUI, can use SketchUp (and purportedly Revit) as a 3d modeler, and uses proprietary algorithms or EnergyPlus as an engine)
Archsim could be grouped with the Rhino/Grasshopper group, but it requires more understanding of energy use, so we don’t use it as much as we’d like. Archsim is bundled with Diva. (Archsim allows use of EnergyPlus as an engine within the Grasshopper environment)
OpenStudio. I’d love to talk to anyone that uses this regularly. It’s been in development for a long time. It’s a GUI that uses EnergyPlus and other engines. I am not sure which 3d modelers it works with.