Sustainable design is practically status quo now, but many clients are still unfamiliar with the lexicon surrounding building performance. Enter the architect. With this increased emphasis on energy efficiency, the onus of communicating and even assessing a building’s performance is starting to fall on the architect.

In the past, architects may have deferred to the engineer or dedicated energy modeler for the information, says Jim Hanford, AIA, the energy-efficiency leader in Miller Hull Partnership’s Seattle office. But integrated design and increased client awareness are blurring the distinction in roles. “As architects, we’re being asked to give more information about the performance we expect out of our projects,” Hanford says. “Energy modeling is how we can do it.”

Assessing the performance and operations of a building is new territory for most architects. To help introduce architects to the relatively technical—and potentially intimidating—topic, the AIA recently released An Architect’s Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in the Design Process, a document that covers the building energy fundamentals and provides step-by-step instructions to predicting—and hopefully reducing—the energy consumption of buildings.

Available as an online download for free, the 86-page guide was written, compiled, and reviewed by a committee of architects, sustainability experts, and building-science officials, as well as staff members at the AIA. The guide covers a range of topics on energy modeling, says Sean Quinn, Associate AIA, a sustainable design specialist based in the Washington, D.C., office of HOK. “It gives a nice breakdown of the reasons why we care [about building energy performance] and definitions of key metrics such as energy use intensity and benchmarks, which are some of the things that confuse people the most,” Quinn says.

The guide not only serves as a primer for energy modeling newcomers, but is also informative for people with experience in the process. “For tech-y guys like myself,” Quinn says, “the review of energy modeling software toward the end of the guide is great because we have many designers who want to learn more about this stuff.” The guide, he says, provides advice such as “if you're trying to accomplish x, then look at this tool.”

Other topics covered include a background on the role of energy modeling in the design process, baseline best practices, and suggestions on how architects can take a leading role in the energy discussion, from a project’s conceptual design to post-occupancy. The guide also explains how architects can offer energy modeling as both a value-added service as well as an ongoing service.

The guide won’t turn its readers into energy modeling experts. But it should empower architects “to become integrally evolved in the [energy modeling] process,” Hanford says. “Too often we let the engineering side run with it, and in some cases they don’t fully understand the intent of the design, or it’s hard for them to model. We need to be involved to ensure they're representing the architecture and design intent as best as it can be done.”

Beyond the technical, financial, and business aspects, learning about building energy performance and modeling will also benefit design, Hanford says. “In the past, energy modeling has been used by most firms—and ours as well—as a means to confirm the decisions that we've made and to quantify … how much better we're performing than a typical building. … As we’re working on more low-energy buildings and higher performing buildings, this offers an opportunity to drive design decisions.”

As with any technology, the tools used for energy modeling are evolving every day. The AIA anticipates developing the second phase of its energy modeling guide next year, pending budget approval from its board this December.

Quinn, for one, looks forward to increased compatibility among building design and energy modeling software programs, which he says would streamline the workflow significantly. Hanford, the energy-efficiency veteran from Seattle, is optimistic about several upcoming programs that he is currently beta testing. Software programs that offer qualitative, simple, but still informative output, he says, could help encourage more designers to participate in energy modeling.