Why Developers Need to Consider Energy Use

This guest blog post was authored by the cove.tool team. Visit their website to discover more or check out our integration.

Importance of Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

Energy Use Intensity (EUI) is a useful metric to compare the performance of buildings across different types, locations and sizes. Think of it as a score to measure the fitness of your building once tenants occupy a space. Simply put, EUI measures the energy efficiency of a building. In general, a lower EUI is an indicator of better performance, which can translate to multiple benefits for developers. For example, higher performance buildings can generally command a higher sale price, a quicker sale, and potentially lower design and construction costs. 

Factors like building assembly, glazing percentages, active and passive design strategies implemented, and loads, can contribute to building owners and tenants paying millions more annually. By knowing the EUI values of design decisions and other iterations, developers can get the best value for a building’s performance.

Site EUI versus Source EUI

There are two different EUI types as it relates to construction. Site EUI is most often a term you will hear in design circles. It is related to the actual energy consumption on a building site, including items such as heating and electricity. Owners see these costs in utility bills or through metering. 

Source EUI is considered a more accurate representation of the energy footprint of a building as it takes more than an electricity bill into account. It also factors a site’s energy consumption and losses due to production, transportation, and delivery to the site. 

Calculating EUI

Primarily used to measure commercial building energy use, there is no one size fits all approach to calculate EUI. For example, energy consumption is not only related to the output of utilities, such as electricity use and fans. It is also affected by the building’s location. 

The first step in calculating EUI is determining how much energy your building uses on an annual basis. Once you have the number handy, divide it by your building’s total square footage. The results are the energy use of the building, per square foot of space. As a next step, calculate EUI by dividing gross energy used in a year, expressed in kilowatt-hour or kilo-British Thermal Units (kBTUs), over the total square footage of the building. 

This provides the big picture on efficiency efforts and identifies areas for improvement. Different structures have different EUIs, and they can vary widely based on the type of building. For example, the EUI of a medical facility will have a higher EUI than a small office or suburban home. This is because of high energy consumption of interior lights, with some running seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, and demands of equipment throughout facilities. 

EUI and Energy Modeling

An energy model can be used to calculate EUI. It uses a series of equations to calculate the heat flow into and out of a building, and measures the amount of energy that must be expended in order to maintain the ideal level of indoor comfort.

This method is useful for new builds and retrofit projects. Performing analysis leads to a reduction in operating costs and improves the tenant experience. Energy modeling is also becoming more commonplace with developers because of the positive impact it can have on improving existing building performance. It is also critical in the design of high-performance buildings. 

Unpacking the Value of EUI for Developers

Savings Associated with Design and Construction Costs

Using EUI as a baseline comparison metric can help developers validate design strategies early to avoid costly changes later. This is key to helping projects stay within budget and on schedule. Considering the full lifecycle of a project, the ability to impact cost and building performance is at its peak at the very beginning when the costs of making major design changes are still relatively low. By conducting early analysis, including calculating metrics like EUI, developers can reap the benefits of increased profits through minimizing design revisions at the later phase of their project.

Increased Asset Value

Since EUI is often used as a benchmark metric to evaluate compliance against energy code compliance, it’s worth noting that studies have shown that green building certifications increase the attractiveness of a property to potential stakeholders. Owners enjoy the benefits of lower operating and maintenance costs, compliance with legislation and CSR requirements, slower depreciation, and increased occupancy rates. Likewise, tenants report increased productivity and increased perception of health and well-being.

Reduced Operating and Maintenance Costs

As energy prices rise, operational energy efficiency will likely become one of the more important drivers for occupier demand. Higher performance buildings have been proven to save money through reduced energy and water use and lower long-term operation and maintenance costs, which overtime, typically result in savings that exceed any design and construction cost premiums. High performance buildings also enjoy the benefit of more efficient maintenance requirements, reducing overall lifecycle costs. Also consider that the United States Department of Energy shared that 30% of energy in commercial buildings ends up going to waste because it is not consumed. EUI considerations can prevent energy waste and reduce costs.

Staying Ahead of the Conversation

Another reason developers should consider building energy consumption and EUI is a shift in the AEC industry driven in part by changing regulation. Energy codes around the world are reducing energy targets to net zero energy use by 2030. 

And with the signing of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, there’s also renewed growth and opportunity in the U.S. for the renewable energy sector that will impact development. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding and State Energy Program (SEP) funding will help states adopt and implement building energy codes. The investment provides an important opportunity for architects, engineers, and contractors to leverage the grants to encourage widespread sustainable design practices. The American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (ASHRAE), among other organizations, are expected to update their codes in 2022. ASHRAE 90.1 will push the minimum requirements higher based on the affordability of new technologies and techniques and be further encouraged by the bill’s initiatives. While standards vary between states, several counties have updated their code requirements throughout the years, creating a new sense of urgency that will have an indelible impact on future development. 

57 TestFit tips, tricks & hacks to become a power user

Here at TestFit, I get to show brand-new clients and existing ones how to get the most out of TestFit. I always try to teach something new, so in that spirit, here is The Ultimate collection of some of our most popular how-to’s, tricks, and a few straight up dirty hacks. 

There’s a lot to unpack, so you can skip ahead using this table of contents 👇

Table of Contents

Preferences & shortcuts

  1. Enable large sites (over 10 acres) in Preferences.
Enable Large Site

2. Embed images within a TestFit file (perhaps to share with someone else) by enabling Embed Images in Preferences.

Embed images

3. Adjust size of text/buttons with UI scaling in Preferences.

UI scaling

4. Press “A” to turn on align drawing when defining sites and drawing massings.

Align drawing

5. Hit Escape within the editors (Building, Deals, Units) to go back a screen.

ESC to go back

6. Click the 4-way arrow to fit the building to your TestFit window. Handy when needing to zoom back out.

4-way arrow

The basics

7. Change what floor you’re on by either clicking or using your mouse’s scroll wheel over the elevator tab on the far right-hand side.

Scroll mouse wheel

8. Enable context buildings around your site by clicking on the icon that looks like a house.

Enable context

9. Use the 3D Tab in top left or the 3D box icon towards the bottom of the screen to switch from plan view to 3D view.

10. Add underlays of sketches or property lines (surveys etc) by hitting “Add background image”.

Background Image

Set up tips

11. When pulling up a site, you can type in lat/lon coordinates of the site or the address as needed.

Address or coordinates

12. You can adjust property lines after you’ve drawn them by clicking and dragging the vertex.

Dragging vertex

13. Hold Shift while hovering over a site line to add another vertex (point you can drag).

Add prop point

14. Hold Shift while hovering over a setback will enable you to create a setback on the floor level you are on (allowing multiple setbacks at height).

15. When defining a property line, you can input a specific length immediately after dropping the first point by clicking the point and then typing your desired length.

16. Rotate a site/background image by right clicking on the control node and rotating. Bonus tip: this works for embedded unit plans too!

Right-click Rotate site

Roads tips

17. Create a closed loop with roads to define a site.

Closed loop road - create site

18. Right-click on a road segment to add another point that will act as a vertex you can drag.

Right-Click add road point

19. Curve a road by grabbing the midpoint and stretching the direction you want the road to bend.

Road bender

20. Note that TestFit allows a maximum of 16 roads to be drawn. BUT – each road drawn can have 16 segments. A segment is a part of the road between two points. So by maximizing your use of points, you could, in theory, have 256 roads! You can add points to existing roads once you have hit the maximum

21. When editing a road section, click and drag the (3-line button on the left hand) up/down to change its placement within the street section.

Drag line to edit road section

Massing tips

22. Enable balconies into setbacks to increase density to allow for projections over setbacks. You can find this in the Site tab.

Balcony into setback

23. Use void spaces for rooftop decks.

Voids for decks

Options & Schemes

24. Don’t like the first version of the test fit? Cycle through Options to find one that appeals more.

Click through options

25. Save a first version as a scheme, and compare design and core metrics to subsequent designs.

Saving Schemes

26. Filter through schemes by defining a min / max under the desired column within the Schemes tab.

Filtering Schemes

Unit tips

27. Use dynamic units in the beginning to easily adjust your depth instead of jumping straight into custom units that would need their depths individually adjusted.

Adjusting dynamic units

28. You can copy/paste between unit databases.

copy paste units between databases

29. Use Define in the dynamic units to adjust the dynamic unit names / abbreviations / bed & bath quantities / colors

Adjust dynamic names and colors

30. Change unit type in the dynamic unit editor from units, to modules, to hotel keys.

31. Adjust angular flex in units to fill oddly angled units.

Adjust angular flex

Exporting

32. When exporting a file (pdf, dxf, skp,) selecting one site will only export info for that one site. You will need to click on ALL (or select outside the site) to export the entire main plan.

selecting site for export - part 1
Part 1
selecting site for export part 2
Part 2

Manual Mode tips

33. The orange circle lets you move the node by clicking and dragging.

orange circle moves node

34. Drawing between the orange and gray circle adds another segments to the road/building.

Adding more road segments

35. Hover over an intersection and right-click remove to remove both segments.

hover over intersection

35. Pull the manual mode segment past the property line to override a snap you don’t like. TestFit will clip out what is past the site lines when you finish editing in manual mode.

Override snaps

36. Click the M button or Solve to finish editing manual mode.

Finish editing manual mode

Parking tips

37. Enable max run for surface parking lots to add landscape buffers between stalls.

Max run surface lot

38. Enable column buffer for podium projects.

enable column buffer garage

39. Right click when defining a podium rect garage on the site to rotate its orientation and adjust its placement. The outer orange offset while defining is the depth of a single-loaded corridor.

Rotate rectangular garage

Deals

40. Deals can be applied PER site and viewed overall as a main plan.

Deal per site

41. Each site can have its own deal metrics depending on building construction style by saving each building’s deal.

defining cost per type

Visualization tips

42. Enable multiple shadows for viewing overlapping shadows.

Enable multiple shadows

43. Shadows saved between views can be saved to export for shadow studies.

Shadow Study between views

44. Save views using the + button.

Save view

45. Try Enscape in TestFit

Straight up dirty hacks

46. Create a 2’ wide road (remove alley and take it down) to divide a site into more sites without actual roads.

Divide a site into more sites

47. Use the easements tool to adjust podium building massing without going into massing mode.

Easements for Podiums

48. Use easements for pushing the algorithm to show a particular layout (massing for podiums or allocation of garden apartments).

garden easement massing help

49. Copy a site into two sites for more complex stacking of units. (Site a = level 1-5, Site B = 6-10).

Complex stacking of units

50. Mix hotel and residential on the same podium building in this super hacky hack. Warning: multiple steps, not for the faint of heart!

  • Podium Fill preset. Pick the units you’d like to use.
  • Draw in manual mode where you’d like units on top of the garage.
  • Once drawn, adjust the PROPERTY line to ½ of the garage.
  • Draw another property line in the other half.
  • Disable parking.
  • Create a VOID SPACE on the first two levels. (Tip, set area to 50,000 SF).
  • Draw the location of the second unit type. 

51. Defining a location for a building (usually in a corner) and using another site to create the parking layout – typically used for surface parking if first results aren’t quite what you want.

52. Use the property lines to manipulate massing for pointy podium garages, essentially blunting the edge.

53. Create a speed ramp by adjusting the ramp percentage, then fill both sides of the ramp with a single loaded space to remove the parking stalls.

speed ramp garage

Clifton's corner

Finally, we leave you with a few bonus tips from our CEO.

54. TestFit ships with Dark mode as a default. Check out how to activate Light mode.

Activate light mode

55. Flick while orbiting to automatically orbit.

56. Engage sound effects to inspire your afternoon

Activating sounds

57. Activate low detail mode for cleaner imagery.

Low detail mode

Have any other TestFit questions? Contact us at support @ testfit.io.

How to urban plan with TestFit

Urban planning is crucial for real estate developers and cities alike to understand how a site will be developed and monetized over the next 10+ years. 

As an architect, how do you solve for multiple sites? How do you cope with design changes and iterations? How do you make sure you’re meeting density goals & parking requirements? If you’re anything like I was in my previous life as a Project Designer at an architecture firm, it involves a lot of hand-sketching and a helluva lot of rework.  

Here at TestFit, architects often come to us looking to solve 4-6 parcel sites that work from both a physical and financial point of view with real-time takeoffs. In this article, we’re going to cover exactly how to tackle this problem.

Figure 1.0: Live tabulations of the site

The 78

We’re going to go to a favorite site of my colleague’s in Chicago that has been slated for redevelopment for many years. The site is a massive park on the river near the United Center stadium.

Figure 2.0: Our proposed site in the South Loop of Chicago

A few important caveats before we get started:

  • This plan was done in 30 minutes; it is by no means a perfect urban plan. However, it does show you how quickly a detailed layout can be created with takeoffs, net rentable, parking ratios, and more with instant design iteration. TestFit’s Manual Mode allows you to further tweak those design details towards a truly perfect master plan. 
  • To keep it simple we’re going to ignore the train for now. 
  • Some people prefer working from inside of the site, outward; for this how-to, we’ll be working from the outside of the site, in, starting with site context! 

Let’s dive in 🤿.

1. Context, context, context

When we look at the surrounding area, we can see some major retail north of the site. So we’ll provide commercial connection along that edge. Using our institutional knowledge, we’ll use offices as anchor tenants for this space as we know they are heavily in demand in this region in Chicago.

Figure 3.0: Building context

There’s also a transit hub nearby, so we’ll build in some high-density housing with one of the mixed-use buildings at the top.

Figure 4.0: Measurement tool

Let’s also plan for a few approved developments planned nearby that we’ll need to consider.

Figure 5.0: Proposed buildings in massing mode

2. Wide open spaaacesssss

Whether it’s going to be on this urban plan or an adjacent site, open spaces are at the top of the list when planning public spaces. In order to preserve Chicago’s long history of public green space near waterways such as the park spaces along Lake Michigan, we’re going to make sure we offset our roadways from the river.

Figure 6.0: Existing waterway

You can also use the roads editor (which we’ll get to below) to add more green spaces by simply changing your presets.

3. Roads

All great urban plans typically start with a framework aka roads. As you know, framework gets you really thinking about how all the sites are connected and how you’re going to grow it. What’s great about TestFit is we can update that framework instantly. This process traditionally is very cumbersome with many revisions required, especially if you have to go back to redo the roads once you’ve started to work on your density. 

We’re going to use TestFit’s roads tool to start from larger, boundary roads, and move in. As you can see below, we’re outlining the site with larger avenues and smaller streets.  , Using the “Sections” menu on the left-hand side, simply select the type of road you want, and draw it in the viewer window. Intersections are automatically created. Simple in TestFit. Not so simple by hand.

Figure 7.0: Creating the site with boundary roads

Next, we’re going to program the site with a few retail anchor tenants accessed by secondary roads as you can see below.

Figure 8.0: Creating secondary roads with TestFit’s street tool

TestFit’s “Roads Editor” allows you to create custom streets sections and other accessories like on-street parking.  Bike lanes allow tenants to enjoy the outdoors, the great river, and the close car-free transit options. Parking is of course always a biggie and we’ll get to that in our individual sites shortly.

Figure 9.0: Adding on street parking, sidewalks, & bike lanes

Pst: If your client / traffic engineer / civil engineer / the city has critical feedback after traffic analysis, roads are simple to change WITHOUT killing your buildings. The buildings will simply adjust, maintaining your desired inputs. Setback and buffer adjustments are similarly adjustable.. Ask us about a demo today to see it for yourself.

We’re placing a few final roads using our lanes and alleys in the “Roads” tool and our sites are now defined:

Figure 10.0: Adding lanes and alleys with TestFit’s Roads tool

For more information on roads, including curved roads and more, check out our Knowledge Base article.

4. Building Time 😎

We’re going to pop some buildings onto each of the sites and then play with building typologies to get as close as possible to our feasibility study. All sites auto-populate with a 5-story wrap but can be changed to any topology desired.

Figure 11.0: Preliminary building inputs on our chosen sites

Site A

As previously mentioned, we planned for commercial space for the top half of the site. For Site A, we’ll start with office space using the “Site Type Selector”. Office space near the urban core of Chicago has historically been a solid move, but with unforeseen circumstances like COVID variants, we need an easy way to cycle through typologies or compare different schemes.  . Luckily, that’s exactly the kind of flexibility TestFit provides.

Figure 12.0: Generating an office building using the core-based buildings site type

We’re going to increase the height of our office building and check out some of the tabulations available. 

Fig 13.0: Takeoffs available from our full-height office building

For more information on TestFit outputs, check out our Knowledge Base article.

Site B

Moving on to  Site B, we’re going to provide a mixed-use tower with retail, office, and multifamily residential. As we really just want a sense of space here, we’re going to play with TestFit’s massing mode (select “Mass-Based Buildings” from the “Site Type dropdown”). Voids, setbacks, program by level, etc, can all be adjusted in real-time. In the end, we settled on multi-level car parking on the first couple of levels, retail on the next level, office levels, then multifamily at the top. We decided on retail above grade as the roadways are actually elevated around it. Check out our real-time decision-making based on some of our research and institutional knowledge around the site.

Figure 14.0: Conceptualizing a mixed-use tower featuring parking, retail, office & multifamily

We’re going to build up this building, using more voids and offsets to create an amenity deck, as shown below.

Figure 15.0: Amenity deck and setbacks added to multifamily portion of tower

Under “Building Input”, we’ve set the efficiency to 80% for our multifamily section of this tower, with a 780’ unit average for Chicago’s hot market. We’re going to adjust our parking requirements to 1 stall per unit as the building is close to public transport. You can see from the red text at the bottom right-hand corner that this scheme still does not meet the parking requirements for this site. We’ll need to continue working with the inputs to find a valid output. TestFit’s real-time feedback makes this quick and easy.

Figure 16.0: Playing with TestFit inputs in mass-based buildings

For more information on mass-based buildings, please check out our Knowledge Base article.

Site C

For Site C, we’re going to switch to the podium preset, increase the height of the initial building, and change our unit average. We’re going to aim for a unit mix of 50% studios, 30% one-beds, and 20% two-beds. This is all real-time math, with a visual understanding of what the layouts will look like. We’ll also add some setbacks to let some natural light in. We’ll do that by holding the shift key while dragging the edge of the building.

Figure 17.0: Changing multifamily unit height & averages, and adding setbacks

Density can be more manipulated here by adjusting the courtyard aspect ratio, adding verticals, etc. The lifts need a bit more work here, but for now, it’s enough for just allocating space.

Figure 18.0: Changing the input’s in TestFit’s high-density configurator

For more on high-density inputs, check out the Knowledge Base article

Pst – enjoying the article so far? Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the latest blogs & news. The article continues below!

Site D

On Site D, we’re going to place a podium hotel. TestFit auto-generates 4 possible options at the bottom-right of the screen and we will toggle to Option A.

Figure 19.0: Deciding on schemes for our hotel building

We’ll substitute the standard units to hotel standard which is a pre-made database in TestFit. We’ll drop parking down to 0.5. We can see in real-time how many keys we are getting in the tabulation underneath to know if we are roughly hitting our desired count.

Figure 20.0: Adding standard hotel units

For more information about TestFit for hotels, please check out this info page.

Site F

On Site F, we’re going to match some of the existing density opposite this site with some lower-density deals. After adjusting setbacks, we’ll start to play with the lower-density housing site types.

Figure 21.0: Turning site E into low-density housing

Next, we will alter our townhouse inputs, including row maximums and minimums, row gap sizes, side-green and back-to-back buffers.

Figure 22.0: Altering low-density inputs in TestFit to achieve a roughly ideal Townhouse layout

Instead of hopping right into manual mode, we looked at our unit sizes and decided to use parameters to adjust the density (in this case unit depth).

We can also enable entries by clicking “Site Exits / Show” and dragging and dropping them into position. We’ll also add a park right opposite the entrance as a common transitional space. We’ll use our “Spaces Tool” to create the park, change the space type to park, and change the color.

Figure 23.0: Modifying the community entrances and adding a communal park

Site E

We’re not too sure what to do with this one. Garden apartments or more single-family housing are viable possibilities. We’re going to start with garden apartments on this site.

Figure 24.0: Laying out garden apartments

We’re not quite getting the density we want and the parking is a little off from our goals. So we’re going to save this scheme to revisit later, save the parameters as a preset from site F, and apply that preset to the low density on site E as a new scheme. The last step is to match the unit sizes in the “Configurator Panel”.

Figure 25.0: Saving sites E and F as scheme

After mirroring the layout of Site F, we can compare metrics between the schemes. Surprisingly, while garden apartments seem the least dense, they’re actually denser, with 120 units.

Figure 26.0: Comparing density between the two schemes

5. Zooming out again

As we toggle into 3D context at the bottom of the screen, we can see that our plan of echoing the existing neighborhood and moving from high density to low (from top to bottom) is panning out pretty well.

Figure 27.0: Populating 3D context on our site

At this early design stage, we can apply budgets to quick takeoffs from TestFit to make sure we are in scope. Based on this, we can pretty easily draw some informal conclusions on whether the site will work or not. 

We can show our real estate developer client these findings to make sure we are on the right track before diving into more critical elements of the buildings (i.e. life safety, amenities, back-of-house rooms, parking details, etc, and the details that truly define a space like unit layouts and balconies). 

It is crucial to note that this is just a first iteration: The ultimate power of TestFit lies in the ability to instantly iterate on your designs in real-time as many times as needed.  

Here’s a demonstration of how you can change your roads without completely losing your hard work on the buildings

Figure 28.0: Move roads around and watch buildings change

My kind of fun

 

When people think of TestFit, they usually think of it for single sites. But as you can see, urban planners, real estate developers, and architects alike can use it for much much more. I like to think of it as tech-enabled sketches that sparks data-driven creativity. 

 

Move the conversation from a napkin sketch to data-driven solutions in a matter of minutes. 

Not yet using TestFit? Sign up for a free trial.