Why has the adoption of BIM been slower in residential architecture projects and how can it be beneficially realized on projects of all sizes?
Over the last few years, Building Information Modeling (BIM) has been one of the most visible aspects of a deep and fundamental change that is rapidly transforming the global construction industry.
The McGraw Hill SmartMarket Report on BIM from 2008 shows that half of the industry is using BIM or BIM-related tools today, indicating a 75% increase in usage in the last two years. The Construction User's Roundtable (CURT) has recommended that owners demand the utilization of BIM on their projects for effective collaboration and improved project quality. The Global Fraternity of Architects (GFA) touts BIM as the future of the construction industry. The AIA is actively redefining the practice of architecture to take advantage of this technology.
Despite these facts, the residential sector has been slow in embracing the concept of BIM. The majority of buzz around BIM is commercial-focused.
Is BIM for 'big' firms only? We present the major reasons why the residential sector is facing barriers with BIM and explain where this sector has not unlocked the potentials of BIM.
Barriers to BIM Adoption
A wide range of responses are heard from residential construction practitioners about their not adopting BIM. Lack of owners' demand for BIM, significant investment, perceived limited value of BIM, and economies of scale are the primary reasons.
Lack of Client Buy-in & Demand: One of the biggest challenges is to obtain buy-ins from owners. Most residential owners are not willing to pay the real cost for a complete set of high-quality plans. They don't care how the package is delivered (whether it is done in CAD or BIM) as long as the drawings are turned in on schedule. Without their buy-ins, it is much harder to "succeed".
Nature of Design Complexity: There is a common belief that "smaller scale" equates to "fewer issues". "BIM is generally perceived as more applicable and profitable to larger and high-rise building projects. This user perception has been a strong impediment to BIM usage on small residential architecture projects," corroborates Ravi Khanna, MRICS, Country Head – India, BCRE.s.
Lack of Focus and Marketing: Commercial BIM gets a greater degree of focus for one simple reason: marketing. The largest BIM software providers, Autodesk and Graphisoft, focus primarily on commercial building projects. Residential BIM users are rarely discussed, whether it is for architectural, HVAC, structural or energy analysis. So, the potentialities of BIM remain unknown to residential building developers and owners.
Economies of Scale: The profit marginality between residential BIM and commercial BIM projects varies significantly. Compared to commercial projects, residential BIM projects achieve fewer outcomes (based on marginal value vs. expenditures of time/resources vs. commercial structures). A larger project scope is required to move from "marginal" benefits to "significant" benefits. Due to this, the residential sector is not ready to invest time, energy and resources into the new processes related to BIM.
It's all about Funds: BIM implementation requires significant investments in technology, staff and Revit training. Moving from the CAD-sphere to the BIM-sphere requires powerful hardware and software, along with networks, servers, and high-speed telecommunications that support the process.
Generally, the additional hours and expenses that are required to put into the implementation become overhead, which is tough to manage in this downturn. Since new jobs are hard to come by these days, residential owners and firms would rather hold on to their favorite CAD program to deliver until things start picking up.
Interoperability & Data Exchange Issues: The effort expended in moving data throughout the construction lifecycle is significant. BIM promises to improve data flow due to the nature of "modeling" vs. drafting. However, the promise has not been fulfilled and in many cases the lack of complete adoption of BIM by the project team increases the complexities related to interoperability.
A variety of national and international construction industry groups estimate the added costs of a project due to poor interoperability to be 15–30% of the costs of design and engineering. Marc Goldman, Director of Strategy, BIM & VDC, the Blue Book, says that, "Given the tight margins of the residential construction sector there is little-to-no tolerance for adding complexities due to interoperability".
Building Information Modeling
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a process that is carried through with the use of software. The success of a BIM project depends on the selection of the right BIM tool and implementing it through strategic planning of transitioning, i.e., management. We can define BIM as a combination of three Ps: Process, Product and Practice.
Building Information Modeling (project) = Process + Product + Practice
Where: Process = Building + Information + Management
Product = BIM-authoring Tool (Revit, ArchiCAD, Bentley, etc.)
Practice = Management (Strategic Planning of Transitioning)
Reasons for Adopting BIM on Residential Projects
"Each building sector has its own complications which BIM can successfully remedy," suggests Tim Beckman, Partner at CG Visions. Agrees Gary Lawes, owner, Jagged Edge Design Ltd., "BIM could be applied to any project of any scale". BIM is quickly gaining acceptance on several institutional projects around the world, and residential developers are also beginning to realize the benefits.
Many early adopters of BIM initially focused on applying the technology to large complex projects. They saw BIM as a way to improve the design process of large projects. Hopefully, those attitudes are changing. Residential owners are realizing that BIM is more of a method than a tool and it can be used throughout the practice, irrespective of the size of projects. Now, most custom green-homes projects are being started in BIM.
There are several factors that are motivating non-adopters to use BIM:
- Increased Productivity due to Structured Information
- Improved Collective Understanding of Design Intent
- Analysis and Simulation Capabilities (Energy, Cost, Quantity)
- Improved Accuracy and Better Project Planning
- Better-Performing Buildings/Infrastructure
- Cost Estimates for Early Project Certainty
- Enhanced Operations, Maintenance and Facility Management
- Climate Change and Occupant Health Consciousness
- Economic Pressures and Stiff Competition
Marketing and Communication Tool
BIM fosters a collaborative effort, enabling the "soup-to-nuts" cooperation among owners, architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers, trade professionals and building operations/facilities personnel.
It ensures a structured and methodical access to right information in the right place and on the right time. It offers enough benefit for all types and sizes of project - from small residential projects to large, complex commercial building projects. The advantages (and profitability) are inherent regardless of building type or size.
For developers, 3-D modeling is the most critical to improving their business. Residential owners/developers more often need the visual 3-D than do the commercial clients. Many clients don't fully understand a flat 2-D world. When they see it in 3-D, they get enlightened and easily convinced. Building Information Modeling offers a tantalizing proposition: the ability to view the project much before it's built. Thus, it saves a lot of waste, miscommunication and frustration.
BIM LEED(s) Global Green Movement
Volatile and increasing energy prices, concern about climate change and occupant health consciousness are influencing people around the globe. People are advocating for decisive action to make societies green and sustainable. These trends have become of paramount importance for commercial, institutional and residential building projects.
Green evangelists are concerned about the current state of energy consumption and carbon emissions worldwide and are looking for a redirection of current design and construction approaches. BIM can be among the effective solutions to climate change, reducing waste and carbon emissions.
Many firms in the US and Canada are using Revit (a BIM-authoring tool) for designing custom green homes and residential architecture projects. In Canada, some prefabricated homes plants started working with Revit and ArchiCAD, and plan to use the MEP suite, as well, to include pipes in prefabricated floor panels. In Scandinavia, BIM-based fabrication of family homes is old news. Wisconsin and Texas mandate BIM use for all new state projects to conform to high environmental and energy-efficiency standards.
On the federal level, the US General Services Administration (GSA) necessitates BIM for spatial validation and the US Army Corps of Engineers mandates that BIM be used for many of its standard building types. While speaking at Autodesk's BIM Conference last year, Paul Morell, chief construction adviser to the UK govt., indicated that bidders and contractors on future public building projects would be asked to use BIM. He also proclaimed that BIM would become a key part of the procurement of public buildings. The Singapore govt. is also suggesting that the engineering community use BIM on residential architecture and commercial building projects for construction productivity and improved work processes.
BIM has growing implications for improving the broad-scale project ecosystem and enhancing project outcomes for all parties. Each player on a construction project has its own unique workflow and expectations; thus each also has a different value proposition regarding BIM, and therefore a different experience of business value.
In short, there is no how-to checklist that applies to every situation. Surprisingly, BIM fulfills all expectations. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) will likely play an important role in the construction industry and BIM is going to play a critical role in controlling the collaboration process.
When computers first came to the market, only big enterprises seemed to realize the usefulness. Now practically each child has her own computer. General contractors are increasingly mandating BIM and necessitating their subs to provide drawings and other disciplines in BIM.
"It is true that an established decades-old platform (CAD platform) can't be uprooted overnight," suggests Tim Beckman. But nothing stays the same for long. "It's not the technology that makes our industry or any industry advanced, it's people's understanding of what it can do for them, and how they can benefit from it," claims Florin O. Popa, Director – BIM Services, iM studios, LLC.