Energy Modeling is Worth Every Penny

Energy Modeling is Worth Every Penny

By Martin Smith

“Energy modeling is a no-brainer for HOK…It’s like reading the MPG (miles per gallon) rating before you buy a car. It’s basic performance information every building investor should know.” Anica Landreneau, director of sustainability consulting at the global architecture firm HOK, was quoted saying this at a presentation she gave during the Better Buildings Summit in Washington, D.C.. The presentation covered—you guessed it—the benefits of energy modeling. But, just how important is this expensive, fancy computer software service? Won’t the engineers create an energy efficient building just fine without it?

Typical Energy Modeling Payback Time….

Anica Landreneau at HOK decided to track energy modeling costs and predicted energy savings for a handful of their projects. After several years, Anica found out that—brace yourself—energy modeling payback is typically 1 or 2 months. One reason for the very quick payback time is that energy modeling can reveal unnecessary designs or systems built into the model (i.e. an oversized HVAC system), which can inform the design team to scrap or reduce certain elements (costs saved) before construction even begins.

The results from Anica’s study, showing cost of modeling divided by modeled energy cost savings, for a number of their projects.


Energy modeling helps designers to quantify the energy savings of energy conservation measures (ECMs), which, according to Anica, is very important for getting them accepted into the building’s final design. Landreneau, during her presentation at the Better Buildings Challenge, debunked the misconception that engineers can implement energy-efficient designs into buildings without the need for energy modeling, by stating, “Owners and project managers do not accept reduced HVAC systems based on engineering judgment—they demand to see numbers!”

If a building owner requests to see the numbers to back up the large commercial project engineer’s system-slimming suggestions, and the design team can access an energy modeler, why not comply with the feel-good request by providing a $30,000 to $200,000 service for ECM’s that provide payback within 1 to 2 months?

Two Showcase Examples

The first project that Anica presented in D.C. was fittingly the city’s first Consolidated Forensics Lab (CFL), which opened in 2012 as the first LEED Platinum building of its kind. This part morgue, part forensic lab, part public health lab uses hydronic HVAC systems—something energy modeling informed—to accommodate shorter plenums and shorter floor-to-floor heights, which allowed the 350,000 square foot building to fit both within its site and under D.C.’s building height restrictions. Energy modeling costs for the CFL building were $60,000 and payback was 1.3 months.

The LEED Gold Daniel Inouye Regional Center in Honolulu, Hawaii was designed with more expensive modeling services, including an energy model, a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model, and a daylight model. The total modeling price tag of $170,000 enabled this building to utilize a cooling system that has trade-wind-catching rooftop projections to cool the outside air with seawater pumped to the roof from a deep sea well. The passive cooling system works like a reverse radiator—air captured by the building’s wind scoops flows over seawater-chilled coils, and as it cools, it drops to the base of the building through a thermal chimney. Another fun fact about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new facility (Brittany: is this the same facility as above, need clarification): it also has seawater tanks that house wounded sea turtles and monk seals. Who wouldn’t want to work in this eco-palace of an office building?

    The rooftop trade-wind capturing cooling system on NOAA’s new facility.


Energy Modeling Questions?

Verdical Group has provided energy modeling services for many LEED projects in Los Angeles and Southern California. We believe energy modeling is crucial for getting the appropriate cost-saving energy conservation measures designed into a building. Please contact us here if you have a project that needs energy modeling services, or just have general questions regarding our process.