What are the benefits of using BIM to improve building performance and create a sustainable, energy efficient development fit for the 21st century?

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Courtesy of Courtesy of ENER-G

BIM (Building Information Modelling) is not just about 3D designs; it is about fully understanding a building model. This includes all information associated with building ‘objects’ (building components), how buildings are constructed, and how they will be maintained during their lifetime – by aiding existing manual processes with digital technology.

The aim of BIM is to encourage greater collaboration with project information, update practices and develop more realistic building models by consistently bringing component information together (‘intelligent object’ data) at an earlier stage in a defined and controlled way. This will provide:

  • Performance properties.
  • Physical characteristics.
  • Appearance.
  • Functionality.
  • Operation & maintenance information.
  • Costing information.

The common vision of BIM is that it will add extra dimensions to a building model by gathering ‘intelligence’ as information is created, captured, analysed, and shared. The use of BIM data to analyse time has been referred to as 4D, with cost management termed 5D, and even a 6D for facilities management.

What are BIM levels?

Overall, the adoption and implementation of BIM is quite a process for a traditional company to initiate successfully. So, milestones have been introduced to enable a progressive transformation. These are known as levels 0 to 3. 


Collaborative working

Information format

Information distribution



Paper or unmanaged 2D CAD

Paper or electronic prints



Managed 2D/3D CAD 

Some electronic sharing



Managed 3D CAD

Shared common files



Integrated automated design

Single shared project model

Why exactly is BIM important?

The main benefits of BIM include:

  • Reduction of design errors, by making it easier to identify errors before a site commences; this may save on cost and time by eliminating rework.
  • Reducing conflicts and design clashes, which would otherwise result in construction changes; saves on construction costs and time.
  • Construction of sustainable buildings, using materials that could decrease environmental impacts; this reduces energy use.
  • Efficiency improvements for maintenance and operation companies. By having historical design data instantly available up to 15% can be saved on maintenance time and sometimes may remove the need for costly site visits. 

The essence of BIM is collaboration, where everyone is working to the same processes, standards, and using the same information before, during and after the project.

It is believed that this will not only provide an opportunity to improve the quality and efficiency of building designs, but it also may improve working relationships between the parties involved.

Collaboration in construction

The UK Construction Strategy 2025 report was issued as part of the government’s programme for: “modernisation of the construction sector [to make it more competitive] by reducing capital costs and its carbon burden from the construction and operation of the built environment by 20%.” 

The report included the mandate for all government procured construction projects to use BIM level 2 after April 2016. However, with pressure to further reduce and more effectively control costs on public sector projects, the Government is keen to push ahead on fully collaborative BIM level 3. 

Intelligent, green buildings

Green buildings have a design that should be environmentally responsible and resource efficient.

However, to be sustainable throughout their lifetime, green buildings also need to be smart/ intelligent by integrating high technology and processes that, while creating a comfortable environment for their occupants, are operationally energy efficient and adaptable to future environmental changes.

BIM for improving efficiency

The reduction in errors and in design clashes have been mentioned as ways BIM will significantly improve design processes. 

However, developers are particularly interested in optimisation of building efficiencies so that they can provide sustainable building designs. They also want to know how the building will perform after commissioning, and then how it will operate throughout it’s lifetime.

Perhaps the most important contribution to sustainability is using BIM to eliminate waste throughout the building’s lifecycle. 

Modern, high-tech, intelligent buildings are complex models comprising many systems and processes which interact with each other.

Most buildings have become so complex that only BMS (Building Management Systems)are effective in handling increased amounts of data, so that  it can be rigorously analysed to interpret how energy efficient a building really is.

As more information regarding the performance of ‘intelligent objects’ is added, BIM can be used with a BMS to create an energy model that almost represents reality. 

Proposals for new developments and refurbishment fit-outs in the UK have to submit an energy strategy and a sustainability statement as part of the planning approval process.

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Methodology) is a recognised method used to indicate a proposal’s energy efficiency and sustainability.

The scheme recognises the BIM Level 2 mandate and the importance of BIM by achieving BREEAM credits, where it produces specific information as evidence of compliance.

These are:

  • Lifecycle impacts: using BIM compliant assessment software tools (BREEAM category Mat 01).
  • Material efficiency: using BIM drawings and calculations showing the reduction of material use through design (Mat 06).
  • Construction waste management: using BIM to identify waste minimisation (Wst 01).

It is essential that a building’s actual performance is monitored and measured once operational. This provides feedback that can be used in future designs and specifications, therefore improving the predictability of BIM processes.

Reducing energy use

Around 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption and CO2 emissions is produced from energy used in buildings; and in the UK nearly half of emissions comes from energy used to generate heat for buildings. 

A building design can use BIM processes and data to help eliminate areas of energy waste, such as building heat losses, and improve energy efficiencies by introducing energy efficiency measures, such as smart controls.

Overall, this will reduce the building’s energy demand, and could result in smaller building services (or facilities) supplied from on-site or decentralised energy efficient sources, such as low-carbon technology.

Objective 3.10 of the CIBSE code of practice for heat networks CP1 considers BIM techniques and 3D visualisation as best practice for designing cost-effective and efficient central energy plant. 

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is the cogeneration of electricity and heat energy from a single source, and as a low-carbon energy efficient technology it is suitable for both on-site and central energy use.

Using energy profiles, models and BIM data to establish a reliable heat demand for a building will ensure that the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system can be sized and selected for optimised performance, resulting in reduced carbon emissions and reduced energy costs.


  • BIM level 2 is now mandatory in 2016 on public sector construction projects.
  • Use the ‘intelligence’ of BIM to understand collaborative building design models.
  • BIM will remove design errors, reduce design conflicts, and provide more sustainable building designs.
  • Use BIM to assess and improve your building’s energy efficiency.
  • Energy efficient buildings can take advantage of low-carbon energy technology, such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP).

Discover how leveraging BIM processes for energy efficiency can help you build an efficient development, reduce your carbon footprint, and correctly size low-carbon technology.

Download the e-guide: Building For The Future: how decisions at the planning stage can help you create an energy efficient building fit the 21st century



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