Does eToolLCD integrate with 3D CAD packages or BIM?

AutoDesk Revit:  Yes!  We have a fully integrated plugin that transfers data from a Revit model directly into eTool templates.  See this video for more info.

Others: Partially.  The Building Information Modelling (BIM) industry is still very much in its infancy and so is our integration with it.  Users can currently use the import feature to upload data from a .csv spreadsheet file.  A .csv file can be downloaded from most BIM models and match this quantity information to our library templates to fill the information gaps (assumptions/materials/people/equipment). Most BIM packages can facilitate either a .csv download or an .xml (or .gbxml for IES) download that can be opened in excel and saved as a .csv.  Another option is to obtain a pdf or excel file of the cost plan and convert this to .csv.

Interestingly full BIM integration was one of our number one goals for software development three years ago. It just kept getting surpassed in the priority list by other new features that we introduce.  Here are some reasons why this happens:

  • LCA should be done as early in the design phase as possible (as is now recognised in BREEAM 2018). Most 3D drawings are completed well into the design phase, and we don’t want to lock designers into detail design before getting design feedback. We really only need a very simple line diagram to give us areas of walls, windows, floors etc. In fact for target setting or early RIBA stage 2 analysis, we run a model from a basic accommodation schedule.  There is far more opportunity for improving the outcome if our first LCA model is based on early concept designs than wait until a comprehensive 3D model has been completed, which will inevitably be too late to influence.
  • There is a large amount of information that is entered into the LCA which doesn’t get included in a BIM model.  For example, you might have the carpet area or cladding but do you have the glue, the underlay or the framing, the brackets, mullions/transoms etc and all the people and equipment used to install them? BIM is not generally at that level of detail yet (it will be soon and we will be ready for it).  This can be very simply added using eTools unique template system, and the BIM integration solutions we have and will continue to develop will leverage the eToolLCD template system.
  • We want to make sure we don’t actually end up making the LCA harder. There is a risk that the users spend so much time cleaning up the 3D drawing or BIM model that it would have been quicker for them to have just entered the templates manually.
  • BIM expertise also has a long way to go.  The gap in a single line of a model (which bears no importance for a BIM modeller) could be the difference between a hollow and a solid column having a huge impact on the material quantity!
  • BIM is complicated due to inconsistency in how it is applied and managed around the industry. BIM has all the hallmarks of a typical ‘network’ technology uptake where one system gains all the market share because it’s easiest to then collaborate. We want to make sure we back the winner in terms of exchange protocols and categorisation systems etc so we’ve been pretty happy sitting and waiting to see which systems win the race.
  • The current method for data entry into eTool is actually fast and reliable. At eTool we do a lot of LCAs ourselves, we’re probably the biggest single user of our own software, so we know where the time is spent in conducting an LCA from start to finish. The data entry is actually quite quick (averages less than 20% of the time taken for an LCA).  So technically the potential benefits of 3D or BIM integration are surprisingly minor.

We will complete further BIM integration in the future.  We would really like people to be able to run a 3D package that gives them thermal performance feedback and also full LCA feedback in the same place. Decisions such as triple glazing or increased concrete thermal mass need to be considered in an LCA to truly understand their net environmental benefits or impacts.  This is the goal and we want to achieve that.

Can eToolLCD account for depreciation in carbon intensity of energy?

Yes, simply select a a grid from the electricity grid library that represents the future carbon intensity of the grid you want to model.  We have set up some examples already:

  • 2030 Australian Generic Grid
  • 2050 Australian Generic Grid

If the future grid you want to model doesn’t exist, choose an existing grid with a similar carbon intensity.  Please note that modelling impacts of future grid scenarios may effect your compliance to some standards.  We recommend only running this as a scenario rather than a base case for your LCA.

Who certifies eToolLCD?

Please click here for a very detailed answer.

What are the Goals of eToolLCD?

The goals of an eTool LCA are to:

  • Quantify the environmental impacts of the clients design (normal eTool assessments pay particular attention to CO2 equivalent emissions, CO2e)
  • Compare these impacts against a typical ‘business as usual’ benchmark
  • Provide recommendations that will ideally reduce the total impacts of the building
  • Conduct this in a cost effective, auditable and repeatable manner

A typical eTool assessment allows reporting of numerous impacts:

  • Global Warming Potential
  • Primary Energy
  • Water Use
  • Land Use
  • Costs

Most commonly however we only report on Global Warming Potential.

It is the goal of eTool to estimate impacts with enough accuracy to compare different design options. The aim is to be vaguely right not precisely wrong. Estimating impacts to high levels of confidence requires detailed resources. In the case of buildings, this will usually be overshadowed by the influence of occupant behavior on operational impacts, or the actual building life that will deviate significantly from that estimated in this assessment. The assessment does not attempt to predict the affects of future changes to:

  • Grid Power Sources (which hopefully by the time this building is actually nearing it’s design life will be predominantly renewable) Inflation of building materials (for maintenance), labour costs or energy costs
  • The assessment therefore represents a snapshot in time, all else being equal, of the building performance.

What Functional Units does eToolLCD use?

In order to normalise assessments between building types the environmental and cost impacts are expressed in terms of an applicable functional unit.  Typically eTool uses the following functional units for different project types:

  • Commercial Office: Impacts are either measured:
      • Per Occupant Hour
      • Per m2 per year
  • Residential buildings: Impacts measured per occupant per year
  • Community, healthcare, retail: Impacts are either measured:
      • Per Occupant Hour
      • Per m2 per year
  • Industrial buildings: Impacts measured per m2 per year

All the functional units rely on a prediction of design life, which has a very large effect on their comparable sustainability. Although difficult to predict, eTool uses a methodology aimed at producing fair and repeatable comparisons between building designs. Individual building life spans will deviate significantly from the design lives calculated using this methodology, however the aim is to predict the mean expected life of all buildings with similar characteristics and circumstances.

Although studies that quantify the actual life span of buildings are lacking, the reasons for demolition of buildings are quite well documented. Studies conducted in Australia (Kapambwe, Ximenes, F, Vinden, & Keenan, 2009) and the US (Athena Institute, 2004) indicate that less than 10% of buildings are demolished due to reaching the end of their strutural service life. It is other factors that usually dictate service life, namely:

  • Redevelopment for economic reasons (surrounding land has increased in value to the extent that it is more profitable to increase the density or use of the buliding)
  • Redevelopment for aesthetic reasons (the building is no longer in fasion)
  • Fire or other disaster

For this reason the following characteristics are also considered when estimating design life:

  • Building density
  • Density of the surrounding suburb
  • Design quality

Best practice building design attempts to match the durability with the redevelopment potential of the building.

The eTool estimated design lives often differ compared to industry perceptions of building life span. Architects in Australia for example expect detached residential buildings to last over 60 years (Kapambwe, Ximenes, F, Vinden, & Keenan, 2009).

How secure is eToolLCD software?

Website
The eTool website itself is built using Microsoft’s latest and most secure web technology ASP.NET MVC.  It leverages the ASP.NET Forms Authentication library to provide the highest level of security to users accounts and their content.  Users are required to use a combination of email address and password to gain access to their eTool workspace.  Passwords must meet minimum complexity requirements and we follow industry best practice by not storing users passwords but rather salted hashes.

Servers
All of eTool’s services are built on top of very secure foundations. Using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to host eToolLCD ensures a high level of security and protection against malicious attacks at the infrastructure level. Amazon have stringent controls, policies, procedures, hardware standards and robust systems that meet or exceed the CESG cloud computing principles as far as the data centre responsibilities are concerned.

Backup Strategy
eToolLCD uses one back-end MYSQL database to store all data hosted by Amazon Web Services. The only separation of data involves documents uploaded by users which are stored on a separate “S3 Bucket” that is called by the application when documents are to be retrieved. The application and database share the same instance. We deploy redundant servers, daily backups and an additional level of backup for disaster recovery. In the event of an outage on a server, we will continue to work on the redundant copies. In the eventuality of a large scale event, we can recover within 10 minutes using the daily backups or within 2 hours using the disaster backups. The whole instance is backed up at 3 hourly intervals with the backups stored using the following schedule:

1. 3 Hourly backups stored for 24 hours
2. Daily backups stored for 7 days
3. Weekly Backups stored for 2 months
4. Quarterly backups stored indefinitely

Skeddly (skeddly.com) service is used to backup the AWS instances. In all, eight separate scheduled actions are set up in Skeddly to achieve the above backup schedule and history. The actions are a combination of “Create Snapshot” and “Delete Snapshot” actions (the delete actions are filtered to ensure preservation of historical backups). At daily intervals snapshots are also copied by the Skeddly service to another region (that is from Singapore to Sydney data centre) to ensure a catastrophic event at the Singapore data centre will not compromise Disaster Recovery efforts.

Alert Communication
AWS Cloudwatch alarms have been set up to alert key eTool staff when the eToolLCD server does not pass a status check. The alerts have been set up for hourly intervals. This ensures that eTool staff will become aware of the issue within an hour of the fault if they haven‟t already been alerted by users.

Disaster Recovery
eTool have a disaster recovery and business continuity strategy that enables very fast full recovery to production. eTool’s disaster recovery strategy has the following objectives which have been successfully tested in simulated catastrophic failure events:
• Recovery Point Objective: Maximum of 3 hours
• Recovery Time Objective: Maximum of 4 hours including:
o Communication: Maximum of 1 hour
o Implementation of DR procedure: Maximum of 2 hours

The essential elements of the DR plan are:

• Communication: Automated communicate to key eTool staff if eToolLCD server fails any status checks
• Pre-prepared reboot instances with the operating system etc installed and ready to boot across multiple regions
• Procedure for creating a new volume from the backups snapshots, and attaching this volume to the pre-prepared reboot instance.
• Post recovery procedure to ensure subsequent failure can be managed in the same fashion and that the root cause of the issue (if internal) is established and re-occurrence prevented.
• Bi-annual simulation of DR event, including full disaster recovery test.

eTool have simulated data recovery incidents and have been able to restore the application to the last backup within 20 minutes of being alerted to the failure.

Continuity
eTool maintains an excellent track record when it comes to software delivery. Unplanned maintenance at eTool has been limited to two occurrences, of approximately 4 and 2 hours respectively, in the five years since eToolLCD has been live. This represents an availability of 99.986% of total calendar hours (incidentally, both of these events happened outside of UK business hours).
eToolLCD updates are conducted on 2-4 week intervals and are scheduled for shoulder periods when user activity is minimal, being a system that is used globally this does present some challenges. The normal update window is 20 minutes. When the application is down for such maintenance a clone is made available in case users are in the middle of a demonstration.

Etool support services are committed to resolving critical support tickets within 4 hours. A critical ticket is defined as one in which an organisation or group of users cannot work and are relying on eToolLCD to achieve a deadline or a process is affected and users cannot perform certain functions.

Etool maintains a business continuity plan which is updated regularly a copy can be provided on request

Has eToolLCD been independently verified?

Please click here for a detailed answer.

How do I learn to use eToolLCD software?

The demand for LCA of the built form is growing rapidly. To ensure we can maximise our current available resources to help accelerate LCD we  encourage you to use our online help videos to learn the basics of eTool.

Of course, face to face training is the best way to learn, and we offer a range of subscription packages. Please register your interest here for the next training session in your nearest capital city.

How do I use the eToolLCD Expressions?

eToolLCD V2 introduced some pretty neat functionality that allows users to enter formulas or expressions into some fields.  This is particularly useful for building operational energy templates, for example, based on building size or occupancy.  We have used a third party calculation library to enable this functionality, the list of available operators and functions is available here.

We also have a number of variables that relate to the design that can be used in expressions.  The list of these is provided below (with default values that are used in library template calculations before loading into a design):

Name

Property

 Default Value 

OccupancyOccupancy of the structure2
Fully Enclosed Building AreaFully enclosed building area of the design225
Estimated Design LifeEstimated design life of the structure50
Maximum Durability CeilingThe maximum structural life of the structure150
Design Template QuantityThe template quantity field that is filled out when uploading a template into a design100

 

This functionality has dramatically improved the ease at which we can predict operational energy in designs and we’re enjoying using it here at eTool.  We will be adding more stored variables as time passes, watch this space.  To learn how to utilise this functionality, please get in touch for some training