Energy models provide insight about a building’s environmental impacts

As a signatory firm of the 2030 Challenge, Shelter is implementing ways to better understand — and improve — the sustainability and energy efficiency of our designs. One technique we use is energy modeling.

An energy model is a computer model that helps designers understand how much energy a building will use — or is currently using. There are many types of energy models. Some focus on a specific influencing factor, such as the amount of sunlight that fills a room. Others provide more general insight by, for example, calculating overall energy consumption.


This illuminance chart shows the amount of daylight expected to enter a building.

Often, we use energy models to predict energy use intensity (EUI). The EUI of a building design tells us how much energy the finished structure will likely use per square foot, per year. When we work with an energy model, our goal is to understand how our design decisions affect a building’s EUI. Many factors — including building orientation, lighting efficiency, the number of windows, the type of roof construction and the efficiency of the HVAC system — can have huge impacts. Honing designs to achieve a lower EUI means we can expect less harm to the environment — and lower energy costs for our clients.

Graphic created by Daniel Overby, assistant professor of architecture at Ball State University.

At Shelter, we create energy models with Insight 360, a tool that works hand-in-hand with Revit, the building information modeling (BIM) software we use to create our drawings and 3D building models. As we design, we create not only a digital model of a structure, but also a repository of embedded information about objects used within that space. For example, we can store data about a single light fixture’s brightness, color and efficiency. Insight 360 can then output a series of comparison charts to help us better understand, on a broad scale, what adjustments we can make during design phases that will most effectively reduce a new building’s environmental footprint.

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