Mark Skaer

It is always difficult predicting the future. Just ask a meteorologist. At least in the weatherperson’s case, he or she will have a job the next day, even if what was predicted did not even come close. It’s a good gig, isn’t it?

Thanks, in part, to the unpredictable results from weather forecasters and the onslaught of political polls, I take predictions, in general, with a grain of salt. That’s not to say I am not interested in what a person, research study, or opinion poll believes will occur in the not-so-distant future. In truth, I’d like to know what’s going to happen so I can possibly prepare accordingly. I mean, if a hurricane is looking to invade my backyard, I’m getting the heck out of Dodge.

While there are many gems a contractor can take out of, and from, the recent New Horizons Foundation (NHF) study, one area I believe it is right on target is its stance on Building Information Modeling (BIM). (By the way, highlights from “The HVAC and Sheet Metal Industry Futures Study: Industry Trends and Drivers Shaping Alternative Futures” will be featured in an upcoming issue ofThe NEWS.) According to the initiative, by 2018 BIM will have become standard operating procedures on virtually all mid-size to large projects, plus will invade the residential sector.

Believe it.


AtThe NEWS, we touched upon this very subject earlier this year (“BIM Designed to Improve Process,” March 3). For the uninformed, now is the time to get informed, plus seek more information regarding this “movement.”

In layman’s terms, BIM is the evolution of computer-aided design (CAD). To be more specific, it is the latest generation of object-oriented CAD systems (otherwise referred to as OOCAD), which replaced 2-D symbols with building elements, capable of representing the behavior of common building elements.

With BIM, all of the building objects that combine to make up a building design can coexist in a single project database (or, “virtual building”), designed to capture everything known about the building. In short, it provides a single, logical, consistent source for all information associated with the building.

For example, a building owner may find evidence of a leak in his building. Rather than exploring the physical building, the owner may turn to his BIM and see that a water valve is located in the suspect location. The owner could also have, in the model, the specific valve size, manufacturer, part number, and any other information ever researched in the past, pending adequate computing power.

Often contractors look at systems and try to determine how they will work with those systems in certain conditions. BIM allows a contractor to view what the building will look like when it’s finished from a diagrammatic standpoint, identify challenges, and test potential solutions. The BIM technology also enables contractors to quickly and directly resolve a conflict by looking at the 3-D model.

While many in the industry are increasingly aware of BIM’s 3-D design capabilities, there are also 4-D and 5-D platforms that include the additional dimensions of costs and time-to-construct. The advanced programs provide immediate estimates for the costs and timing related to desired changes either before construction starts or during the construction process.

The BIM movement was initially led by building owners, then moved to the larger construction managers/general contractors, and is now permeating the entire building process. Instead of getting in on the back end, HVACR contractors have the capability of getting in on the front end now. Don’t let architects run the entire show.


For the believers in the technology – and this includes MCAA and MSCA – significant cost savings can be realized through BIM. For example, contractors can quickly and directly resolve a conflict by looking at the 3-D model. Not only does this save costs, it saves time on the project.

If there is a drawback, it might be in interoperability. The NHF study projected that $15.8 billion is lost annually by the U.S. capital facilities as a result of inadequate interoperability due to the highly fragmented nature of the industry, continued use of antiquated business practices, lack of standardization, and inconsistent application of technology adoption. However, BIM software developers appear to be aware of this problem and are striving to build interoperability into the software from the start.

In short, BIM takes a step toward eliminating on-site changes and modifications by allowing contractors to simulate the construction and operation of a home before construction begins. It’s no wonder the NHF study declares flat-out: “…and any contractor doing new construction and/or large renovation work must be BIM-proficient to survive.”

Are you listening?

Publication date:10/13/2008