[Equest-users] A Response & Statement on Energy Modeling Services: Meaning and Value

Boxer, Eric eboxer at pathfinder-ea.com
Wed May 16 13:22:58 PDT 2012


Thanks for taking the time to put this credo together. There of many out there who support your values of quality in the modeling process.
I would like to add to one of your points:

1.       Energy modelers have a responsibility to influence, support, and engage themselves in the design process as a participating member of the design team.  If you instead structure your services as "a way to find LEED points after design is completed," you have stumbled and fallen behind the starting line.  Your own hard-earned modeling skill set is rendered a meaningless exercise in paper-shuffling courtesy of the USGBC:  a disservice to yourself, your clients, and your energy modeling brethren.

I agree wholeheartedly with this; Bill and I definitely practice that here.

Adding to that:
3.1.    It is the responsibility of energy modelers to advocate for and support the collection of post-occupancy usage data in the buildings we model. Without this data, our models have little validity and we are not learning about how to simulate the way buildings operate, we are merely learning about how to use the energy modeling software.

Building energy use has a great deal to do with how facilities managers operate their buildings. By advocating for the additional M & V, we can move towards the adoption of energy models as a tool that building facilities managers can use to optimize building performance. This would make energy models really valuable tools with an extended lifetime beyond just scoring LEED points. Maybe we can also think about offering additional services to the facilities managers in helping them with this process.
Any other thoughts?



From: Nick Caton [mailto:ncaton at smithboucher.com]
Sent: Friday, May 11, 2012 11:53 AM
To: bldg-sim at lists.onebuilding.org; equest-users at lists.onebuilding.org; EnergyPlus_Support at yahoogroups.com
Cc: Jeremiah Crossett; Pasha Korber-Gonzalez
Subject: [Equest-users] A Response & Statement on Energy Modeling Services: Meaning and Value

I am posting this to multiple lists as it is intended to benefit the broader energy modeling community.  Anyone wishing to respond, disagree, add-to, or otherwise participate in the discussion:  I strongly encourage you to reply to bldg-sim at lists.onebuilding.org<mailto:bldg-sim at lists.onebuilding.org>, where your thoughts will reach the broadest audience.  This message is attached as a .doc file inclusive of formatting, for those who need it.

The following response/statement is a collaborative effort, and represents shared assertions.
A great thanks to both Bill Bishop and Pasha Korber-Gonzalez for their separate efforts off-list to add to this discussion.

A primer:  Some of this is "tough-love."  Where I choose my words candidly, they are backed by my experience and best intentions.  It's my sincere hope Jeremiah and everyone following along will recognize and seize an opportunity learn from this situation, coming away with an improved perspective on our shared profession.  If you haven't seen his query yet, I advise scrolling down to read Jeremiah's post first, as this is largely structured as a direct response and will read easier.

1.       Everything you have bulleted as difficult to have others assemble are items I understand to be gathered by the modeler.  This is critical.  I normally start with at least a full set of construction documents (plans + specs) and load calculations, in whatever state of design they may be:

a.       I do my own lighting takeoffs and lighting control credit calculations using the lighting RCP's, scheduling, and control diagrams.

b.      Thermal blocks are defined and revised as design progresses, typically working directly from the HVAC ductwork layouts to trace boundaries.

c.       Systems are fully understood by carefully studying their control schematics, scheduling and the associated drawings/specs.

d.      Appropriate exterior elevations are gathered for WWR takeoffs.   Spec sections and floor/wall/roof section details typically fully inform envelope/glazing constructions.

e.      Anything which cannot be determined or reasonably assumed after a thorough review of the construction documents is then fair game to ask of the designers.  Asking a series of questions already answered suggests (true or not) a lack of effort to familiarize yourself with the project.

f.        A "fill out this worksheet" approach is something many of us have tried and come to avoid for the same reasons you're struggling with.  Seizing the responsibility to identify & extract required inputs is ultimately a time-saver for everyone, and is an efficient way to place yourself on the same playing field as the design team.  This maximizes face-time spent informing and supporting design decisions.

2.       Where a cooperative designer is willing to put forward their takeoffs/calculations - I will happily take in any such information, but I allot myself time to review those inputs before sticking them in my models.

3.       Energy modelers have a responsibility to influence, support, and engage themselves in the design process as a participating member of the design team.  If you instead structure your services as "a way to find LEED points after design is completed," you have stumbled and fallen behind the starting line.  Your own hard-earned modeling skill set is rendered a meaningless exercise in paper-shuffling courtesy of the USGBC:  a disservice to yourself, your clients, and your energy modeling brethren.

4.       The difficulties inherent with "preliminary baselines" are appreciably difficult to convey - especially to those who do not care to understand.  You however are being paid to be an expert.  To offer evaluative modeling services during design, you must embrace these difficulties and adapt your workflow to meet your clients' needs and pace.  Don't get hung up explaining how complex our job can be at times, especially if nobody's asking!

Some direct advice on the matter:

a.       90.1 baselines are as you say constructed from actual design - wherever the proposed design isn't complete, you are charged with identifying and implementing reasonable assumptions.  I suggest recording and clearly presenting critical assumptions alongside your results for open review - this is a fundamental means of engaging the designers.  Early baselines are always built on assumptions - it's as simple & complex as that.

b.      On the flip side:  Early baselines, in spite of the most intelligent assumptions, can easily bear little resemblance to their final counterparts.  Present early modeling results as design alternative comparisons and in relatives to avoid the deadly trap of others assuming they will apply to the final design.  Example: "These day lighting controls will save approximately 20% in lighting energy consumption relative to occupancy sensors alone.  This equates to approximately 2 LEED points using our current baseline estimate."

5.       Modeling service pricing is a complex and sensitive subject - easily many discussions unto itself - but the three of us are in full agreement on one thing:  $2,500 to cover full LEED energy modeling responsibilities for any size project is VERY much below the mark.

a.       Adding another zero moves you into a closer ballpark for projects of this size and time schedule.  This assumes your services are bringing enough value to the drawing board that "What's the point?" never comes up.

b.      A suggested estimating exercise:  Keep a careful record of how much time you actually spend on this project in total (including data collection, communications, compiling documentation for LEED, researching modeling nuances, responding to commentary from all parties...), then turn to the fee you requested and give thought to what your actual hourly rate turns out to be.  This exercise is often an eye-opener.

c.       Pasha has put forward the following estimate and advice based on the basics you have shared regarding the project's scope:
If I had priced this I would have approached it with this cost logic:  72,000ft2 x $0.20/ft2 = $14,400 / $125/hr billable rate (this is what I charge for my services & experience skill-set) = 115 hours to complete this model scope of work -I then estimate that it will take me an additional 25 hours of work to complete the LEED documentation and review comments.  At an average of 40 hrs /work week, a total of 140 hours of work is approximately 3.5 wks of work.  At this rate, this is the standard amount of time I need to complete everything.  If the client asks for a quick turn-around time on a project I always charge a $5,000 premium.  My standard frame of measure is 4 weeks.  If a client needs a model in less than four weeks from me, it is subject to a $5000 add fee for priority which gives them 1A Priority over all my other commitments.  Any model that is expected in less than 4 weeks is always pushing the limits of quality modeling.   Now---DON'T get me wrong, I'm not saying it always takes me this long to build a model; however I don't give my client anything less than 4 weeks of an expectation for me to deliver anything to them. Of course every project and every client will have their unique scenarios that will dictate how you navigate your projects.  It's a pretty sure bet that you will run into problems of not having information you need for the model and this will inevitably push out your ability to get a model completed on time, which is indicative of Jeremiah's current issue. My final fee, based on what has been shared  for this model, would have been $15,000 standard fee + $5,000 if they wanted the final compliance model and LEED documentation in less than 4 weeks, because it doesn't leave any room to work on any other projects during that time in order to complete all the work they are asking for.

d.      To answer "how much should I charge for my services?" you must eventually consider all of the following:  (1) how much your time is worth, (2) how much time the project will require, and (3) the market value of your services - which should impose both a minimum (what the seller can bear) and maximum (what the buyer will bear) to an acceptable offer.

e.      Pasha also wrote you (and all of us) specific advice on the concept of minimum project time investment.  I follow similar logic and work from a minimum quantity when building my proposals:
Any average sized compliance project should take a minimum of 80 hours based on mine and other colleagues' experience; this is always where to start pricing.  Even the smaller sized building models will still take approx. 80 hours from start to finish because of the idiosyncrasies that we encounter with our simulation tools, discrepancies with project info/ client communication, and time, etc.  Now, what is your skill level & skill-set as an energy modeler?  I'm presuming that Jeremiah is new to this game, based on his questions/comments, so here is some guidance on minimum fees to charge for any energy model:  Try to never offer a LEED Compliance modeling fee lower than $6,000 to a client (and this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel, I suggest not actually lower than $7,500).  This $6,000 fee is based on $75/hour billable rate x 80 hours (absolute minimum time) = $6,000.  If you're doing the model with a quick turnaround time also, I suggest adding another $4-5,000, so you should be looking at a $10,000 fee approx. for a full compliance model in 80 of work done in 2.5 weeks of time right?  Or think of this ----even a $7500 total fee at an hourly rate of $75 = 100 hours of time to do the work = 2.5 weeks.

f.        Nick's personal perception:  I appreciate the logic of "paying" to get your foot in the door to learn & gain experience, but energy consulting as a solo venture seems at best a rocky path to that end.  If your immediate priorities include 'learning the modeling/networking ropes' to a significant degree, permanent employment or a paid internship with an MEP or A/E design firm that can use an extra hand with modeling services is a more economically stable and faster means of building such skill sets and experience.

6.       On the role of defaults/generic inputs for LEED:  This query could quickly blossom into long discussions around ethics, professionalism, quality, etc... The following points intend to address your specific question without venturing into those broader topics:

a.       The degree of accuracy (to reality) appropriate for any energy model or study hinges directly upon the needs of your clients and information available.

b.      Careful review of 90.1 Appendix G and the LEED literature reveal the requisite degree of accuracy (to reality) is relatively low.  Re-stated for clarity:  A significant quantity of generic/default inputs may be acceptable to a LEED reviewer.

c.       This has surfaced before on the lists but bears repeating:  The 90.1 Appendix G Performance Rating Method is fundamentally & necessarily arbitrary, and is not a process structured to predict actual utility bills.  Do not allow your colleagues/clientele to assume otherwise.  Utility bill calibration is something you may choose to offer alongside LEED modeling services, but maintaining this distinction remains important.

d.      Energy modelers have an obligation to utilize all information provided and available, time permitting.  There is a "pencils down" moment to be cognizant of with every project, and your personal skill level will dictate when you must make judgments to prioritize input data available.  If an assumption or generalization must be made (for whatever reason), that is best discussed with your design team to their satisfaction well prior to deadlines.

e.      If 'real-world accuracy' is a marketed or requested feature of your modeling services, be warned this can easily call for tiers of skill & time-commitment well beyond what a set of LEED models demand...  Structure your proposal fees accordingly, and be wary of biting off more than you can chew.

1.       Intermediate modelers:  I advise great caution.

2.       New modelers:  Here be Dragons!  (Run awaaaay!)

3.       Advanced modelers:  Why are you still reading this?  =)

Concluding thoughts:

Hopefully both you and your clients are learning to never offer/solicit services at such undercut rates.  I do empathize with "getting your foot in the door," but when that crosses the line of mis-representing the value or meaning of quality energy modeling services, it creates negative effects we all must bear and overcome as an industry.  The personal ramifications should be clear as well:  Once you have offered a "discount" price, you can never go back and raise your price with that customer...

Again, much thanks to Pasha and Bill for contributing and helping to distill these views into a (hopefully) intelligible statement.  I look forward to hearing other's thoughts!


[cid:image001.jpg at 01CD337F.B2256230]


Smith & Boucher Engineers
25501 west valley parkway, suite 200
olathe, ks 66061
direct 913.344.0036
fax 913.345.0617

From: EnergyPlus_Support at yahoogroups.com [mailto:EnergyPlus_Support at yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of CleanTech Analytics
Sent: Sunday, April 29, 2012 3:57 PM
To: EnergyPlus_Support at yahoogroups.com; bldg-sim at lists.onebuilding.org
Subject: [EnergyPlus_Support] Best practices for data collection?

Hello Simulation community.

This request is somewhat vague so please feel free to respond with any comments, questions etc...

I am working on my first LEED project, a 72,000 square foot plastics manufacturing facility and have found the data collection process to be quite difficult.
The mechanical engineer says she does not think detailed modeling is of much value, the architect has expressed that he will not do anything that takes any additional time.

I have created this data collection form, but have not had the best of luck getting them to fill it out: https://docs.google.com/a/cleantechanalytics.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dGVMRGdPeDN2Zk9JT1gyMXY1QUplMGc6MA#gid=4

Some of the issues I have had are:

  *   Difficulty explaining the concept of thermal blocks
  *   Difficulty explaining the concept of window to wall ratio
  *   Difficulty explaining the concept of a baseline building being developed from the proposed, specifically they want me to create the baseline first to test their proposed building against.
  *   Difficulty explaining the concept of building area vs space by space lighting compliance paths.
Other questions I have:

  *   I made the mistake of charging a low ($2500) price to get my first project, and wonder what something like this should be worth.
  *   I am being pressured to produce this model in a very fast time-frame, and wonder how long in terms of man hours is reasonable for such a project?
  *   I have been asked to use generic data for much of the proposed building inputs, and it was said that due to my limited experience that I did not understand how to do this where a more experienced modeler would-- I think that some default values are consistently used in modeling but feel that this should be a last resort.

I have purchased all of the ASHRAE books on the subjects, but other recommended reading would be great, specifically if anyone knows of a very simple overview of the minimum requirements that I could share with the project team that would be great..

Lastly, if anyone could let me know if this difficulty in explaining the required processes, or issues with project teams not understanding the concepts behind Energy modeling is the norm, and if anyone has any advise so far as streamlining the data collection process, or explaining the importance of the requirements I would be appreciative..

Your advise is much appreciated and Best regards-

Jeremiah D. Crossett
CleanTech Analytics

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