Developing better outputs from building thermal simulation tools to improve decision making in the design of low energy buildings
Thermal simulation tools are an essential element in the design of low energy / low carbon buildings. However, they have made little impact on the building design community, despite legislation and industrial and technological development requiring more performance oriented and energy efficient buildings. Although this is a multi-faceted challenge, the research methods used to investigate and address it tend to lack the necessary richness and interdisciplinary.
Current outputs from simulation tools tend to be unrelated to concepts that are meaningful to the building designer and incompatible with his/her constructivist / experimental / ‘learning by doing’ way of approaching problem-solving. Developers are rarely provided with adequate information about how simulation results can be used to inform design decisions. Consequently, responses to the problem tend to be interpretations of what the simulation community assumes the building designer needs. These responses tend to be based on research methods that are ineffective in matching needs with their appropriate solutions. Research methods such as interviews, structured on-line surveys, reports of specific case studies and observations from working in collaboration with building designers simply describe the problem without showing how it can be solved.
Even though much has been achieved in improving input interfaces and facilitating modelling in the early design stages (connecting SketchUp with EnergyPlus via OpenStudio, the set up of AutoDesk Project Vasari, etc.), there is still much to be done about the content and format of building thermal simulation results for them to be effectively used in design decision making. The displays of time-series graphs and tables with temperatures and loads connected to surfaces and volumes are meaningless for building designers to use. Designers need results that effectively connect these temperatures and loads with the building elements they are manipulating.
This research proposes to focus on the gap that exists between the output information from simulation tools and what is actually needed for building designers to undertake informed design decisions when designing energy-efficient low carbon buildings - the gap that prevents simulation tools from being better integrated throughout the building design process. Hence, it aims to generate procedures to produce post-processed information and data representation systems that are meaningful to building designers. These procedures and outputs will be illustrated by a series of tested and validated examples developed through interdisciplinary collaboration. As suggested, proper collaboration between building design researchers and building simulation software researchers is essential to acknowledge and brings together the different ways these two disciplines interpret and manipulate building thermal physics. Moreover, the approach creates opportunities for a different research method to be explored. The method consists in inviting the building designer to propose what he/she thinks would be useful building physics information to support his/her design decisions when presented with a design task specifically tailored to facilitate the extraction of this information. Propositions include parameters, indices, diagrammatic and multimodal ways of representing results as well as possibilities of undertaking design changes. This method, not used before in this research area, aims to ensure that simulation tools will be consonant with the way of thinking and modus operandi of the designer, in ways that will mitigate current resistance to incorporating simulation results in design decision making.
EPSRC First Grant