2012 Market Assessment

For an architect or engineer, this report provides insight into their competitiveness within the local market in terms of building simulation. The broad understanding of societal norms by a group of people can often serve as the most effective motivational factor for change. Thus, understanding how many firms use simulation may provide the impetus to change the direction of a single practice. The ultimate goal of this research is to report statistics about the adoption of simulation in order to catalyze its widespread use as a tool for designing high-performance buildings in the Boise area.


The UI-IDL received survey results from a total of 27 architecture and engineering firms in the Boise, area. Of these 27 firms, 61% were architecture firms, 30% were engineering firms that included mechanical design services, and 9% were multi-disciplinary firms that included both architectural and mechanical design services. The infographics throughout this report separate data between the architecture and engineering disciplines based on color. Given the small distribution of mutli-disciplinary firms, their survey data was combined with the architecture discipline’s for the creation of infographics in this study.
The market assessment includes most of the architecture and engineering firms in the Boise, Idaho area. Out of 31 architecture firms, 19 participated in the study, which equals 62% of the firm population. These 19 firms contain most of the employee population however, as the remaining 12 firms were smaller practices. Adjusting for this, the survey represents 323 out of the 367 total local architecture employees, or 88% of the local architecture population.

Of the 14 engineering firms in the Boise area, 8 participated in the survey, representing 57% of local engineering firms. However, the study represents 202 out of 216, or 93.5% of the total engineering employee population. Capturing 88% and 93% of the respective architecture and engineering employee populations constitutes a strong representative sample size for this research project.
It is important to note that sample populations are predictions only, and do not represent definitive firm populations derived from studies or professional organizations. Boise firm population data was surprisingly hard to come by, so the UI-IDL executed a phone campaign based on internet searches. Phone calls substantiated that the firms were still in business and determined how many full time equivalent positions they employed. This included all staff dedicated to either the architectural or mechanical engineering practice, regardless of whether or not they held a professional license.


The inner circle of the graphic shows that 42% of architecture firms and 92% of engineering firms use simulation to some extent in their practice. In the survey, those firms were also asked to indicate how they used simulation. They were presented with three options and could choose one or all of the selections. This data is represented within the outer circle of the graphic and reveals that architects primarily hire simulation services from either a mechanical engineer or third party. However, out of the 42% of architecture firms that use simulation, 38% of the 42% conduct simulation in-house. Out of the engineers, a substantial 92% of firms use simulation in some form. The predominance of energy simulation traditionally lies within the engineering discipline and so this large usage rate amongst engineering firms was expected. Further exploration revealed that out of the 92%, all firms have in-house simulation capabilities, but 50% also share resources with another mechanical engineering firm and 38% hire 3rd party consultants to help with simulation services. It is important to note that the outer circle percentages are based on the number of selections made by the firms that use simulation, so their totals equal above 100 due to some firms selecting multiple services.


Firms that use building simulation cited the motivations for incorporating it into their practice shown in this infographic. The survey presented the participants with 10 factors and allowed participants to choose one or all of the selections, as well as write in their own motivational factors in an “other” input. The infographic shows the percentage distribution of the 25 architectural selections and the 29 engineering selections. Using simulation as a design tool and for LEED documentation were the two largest motivational factors for the architecture firms. For engineering firms, requests by the client and LEED documentation served as the most important reasons for its use.


The survey also asked firms how many of their total projects in 2012 utilized simulation and in what way. For architecture firms, 8.4% of the total 1,163 projects used simulation in one way or the other. Out of these 98 projects, 77% used simulation for LEED documentation or code compliance, while 54% used simulation to help design a higher performance building. This distribution does not equal 100% due to the fact that some of the projects used simulation for both LEED documentation and for design assistance. On the engineering side, only 5.6% of the 995 total projects in 2012 used building simulation. Of these 56 projects, 18% used simulation for LEED purposes and 63% used it for design assistance. The numbers are counter intuitive, in that a higher percentage of architecture firms’ projects used simulation in general while a higher percentage of engineering firms provided simulation services. The data also shows that the architecture practices’ use of simulation was still driven more by LEED, while engineering simulation was more often used to improve building design.


Of the 525 combined employees in both disciplines of the study, 74, or 13.9% of the total were proficient in simulation. Broken down by discipline, 7.7%, or 38 of the total architecture employees surveyed were proficient in at least 1 simulation program. Proficiency in this context required using the program on at least 3 different projects. For engineering firms, 10% of the employees, or 38 engineers in total, were proficient in using simulation programs. This graphic also shows the utilization of either energy or daylight simulation, within the two separate disciplines. These metrics are further broken down into specific programs in the last two infographics of this report.


This market assessment studied both how many employees were proficient in simulation and which programs they use. The two infographics display the distribution between software programs that 7.7% of local architects or 10% of local engineers can operate. The statistics are also broken down by software type (i.e. energy or daylight simulation). Of the energy programs, eQUEST and OpenStudio led the pack in the architecture community, while eQUEST, Train-Trace, and HAP were the programs of choice for engineering firms. In terms of daylight simulation software, SkyCalc and 3ds Studio Max were the most utilized by architects. Skycalc is an advanced calculation spreadsheet for toplighting and big box store applications, while 3ds Studio Max is taught in most architecture programs and serves as a rendering program than can also conduct daylight analysis. Skycalc was the only daylight simulation program used by the 1.5% of engineering employees capable of daylight analysis. Its ease of use as a spreadsheet calculator likely explains its widespread adoption in both the architecture and engineering disciplines. For more information on the strengths and weaknesses of the programs in this report, refer to the Department of Energy’s Software Tools Directory1.


The survey asked the 43% of architecture firms and 8% of engineering firms in the study that did not provide simulation services to elaborate on why this was the case. The firms could select one or all of the reasons from a list of 8 potential de-motivational factors. The infographic breaks down this information by discipline, and ranks from left-to-right the most-to-least problematic aspects of simulation for the architecture discipline. For the small amount of engineering firms that did not use simulation, they all cited the inability for energy simulation to provide design services as their main rationale. However, not a single architecture firm listed this as a concern, which could point toward the discrepancy in architectural and engineering simulation software. From the program-specific breakdowns earlier in this report, the architecture firms used energy simulation programs that were more geared towards early conceptual analysis versus detailed HVAC design.

The architecture firms listed steep learning curves, software program expense, and the lack of clients requesting simulation as the main reasons for their reticence toward adoption. Those first two reasons are pretty straightforward, although the “not requested by clients” (19%) and “doesn’t provide value to projects” (5%) perspective by the firm itself may relate most to the types of projects in the firm’s portfolio. Not every project requires simulation, so the perceived “value” of simulation is highly dependent on the type of work commissioned by the client. These responses may also be tied to the “takes too long to execute” (14.3%) response, which is a combination of the cost per hour of energy analysis and the protracted time it takes to conduct a simulation study. Clients and architects would no doubt request building simulation more or see more value in simulation if tool development increases the speed of simulation and reduces its cost.


This market assessment provides a quick snapshot of the state of building simulation within the local architecture and engineering community of Boise, Idaho. For design professionals, it provides a strong representation of how simulation is used and where their firm resides in the local spectrum of simulation skillsets. For instance, if your firm does not use simulation, the assessment communicates that you lie within the 58% majority if you are an architecture firm, or within the 8% extreme minority if you are an engineering firm. Additionally, if you were an architecture firm interested in building in-house energy simulation capability, you would be within the 15% of total architecture firms in the study that do the same and would likely consider the OpenStudio or eQUEST simulation programs.

Analyzing the data presented in this report, in conjunction with the diffusion of innovation chart1, provides insights similar to the example discussed above. In general, the different data points show that adoption of simulation lies at different positions on the graph’s vertical and horizontal axes. The data show that 42% of the architecture firms and 92% of the engineering firms use simulation in some form. This makes an architecture firm adopting simulation a member of the “early majority” and an engineering firm a “laggard.” However, these positions change by considering how firms use simulation. Out of all the architecture firms in the study, the firms that use simulation in-house (15%) could be considered “early adopters” and thus ahead of the curve. For the engineering employees that know simulation, 35% use the EnergyPlus and are part of the early majority of engineering employees that use this new generation of simulation software.

In terms of market share, 7% of both architecture and engineering projects use building simulation and fall on the graph as “early adopters.” Taking this one step further, the 4% of the total amount of projects that utilize simulation for design assistance, versus documentation, fall even closer to the “innovators” mark. However, given the issues mentioned previously with this metric, not all projects require simulation which skews this position to some extent.

There are multiple reasons for the relatively low market share of projects utilizing simulation. First, not all projects call for the use of simulation. Generally, forward-thinking clients or code/certification requirements served as the main motivation for both architects and engineering firms alike. Regardless, projects that sought certification or aspired to aggressive energy efficiency goals likely made up the minority of firm portfolios. Using simulation simply to design better buildings was and still is on the periphery of the professions, although it is promising that 34% and 14% of all architecture and engineering motivational responses, respectively, cited using simulation as a design tool. Additionally, simulation’s high perceived cost, learning curve, and time-intensive execution contributed to a quarter of the de-motivational factor responses.

This perceived low value proposition of using simulation will likely become less significant as free tools like OpenStudio and EnergyPlus become more user-friendly. The rise of BIM-embedded energy analysis and the improvement of the BIM export process to simulation both have the potential to redefine the high performance building design workflow. This type of BIM integration may quicken the process of simulation while making it easier for architects and engineers to collaborate over one model. The data show that zero engineering employees and only a small percentage of architecture employees can use BIM-integrated simulation tools like Green Building Studio.

Rapid simulation tool development and the demand for energy efficient buildings is expected to increase the number of local projects that use simulation. As the market for simulation moves forward, reports such as this one can track its development, break down useful data for the industry, and hopefully speed up the adoption of building simulation overall.

For more information on building simulation, access to other simulation resources, and to track the progress of this report and future benchmarking efforts - please visit http://www.idlboise.com/content/bsug-20