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“The computer knows that it’s a wall, and that it’s a wall with certain, specific dimensions, and, with BIM, it may even know that the wall is concrete–but you can even go deeper than that, and say, ‘it’s made of concrete and concrete costs this much per cubic foot’ or ‘it’s made of concrete and it weighs this much.’”

Freed envisions a day, not far off , when BIM drawings not only distill details like those he described above, but also pre-fill out LEED or NAHB green builder certification categories for the project, print out bidding documents based on the cost and sourcing information input by the architect and identify potentially costly mistakes before they get off the drawing board.

But there’s a caveat: architects, as a rule, aren’t inputting as much information into their drawings as they could or should, and builders aren’t demanding that they do, he says.

Once they do, Freed says, the software is just a few steps from “the great convergence,” when architectural drawings become living models for residents and building managers to use to operate their home or building more efficiently.


The problem of short-lived electronics creates 400 million tons of e-waste in the U.S. alone each year. But a few manufacturers have begun to do their part, offering more durable products and equipment that’s upgrade-friendly.

Using Autodesk 3D design tools, students at Finland’s Aalto University and Stanford University in the U.S. created the Bloom laptop, which can be disassembled in 10 steps, without tools.

Another view of the Bloom laptop shows just how many parts could be designed for upgrade, or easily separated into material types, such as plastics, metals, and circuitry.

Panasonic has rolled out its Toughbook line of laptop computers, which are engineered to withstand drops, spills, dust, and grime.


Feedback Loops
Another evolving technology is building management software (and hardware). Although primarily aimed at commercial buildings, it’s likely these products will make gains in the home environment in coming years, in part because of the push for smart grid technology.

One of the leaders in the field is Agilewaves, which describes its product as a measurement infrastructure system for the new “perform as designed” requirement in integrated, code-compliant building designs.

Founder Peter Sharer says the roots of his firm’s systems extend back to a consulting project he and business partner David Brock were doing at Adobe Systems in the mid-2000s.

“They had a very extensive custom energy management system, and we both thought it was so cool that we wanted to build a world class system of our own,” he says.

The Agilewaves system consists of a series of sensors installed inside the building’s circuit breaker panel, plumbing, and, if applicable, gas lines, with the information they acquire being fed into the company’s server. Clients then access the data–all of which resides in the cloud–via a proprietary gateway that they can access via any number of platforms including their iPads, iPhones, Smart Pads, or Google Android devices.

So could this data be integrated into a building’s design phase, to achieve a certain level of performance? Not yet.

“We’ve got the ability to export our data into a .csv file [architects] can use,” says Sharer, “and we think the concept does have potential, especially in the green home niche.

“Personally,” he adds, “I don’t see green homes hitting the mass market yet,” he adds. “That would be one of the prerequisites. A second factor is that in the mass market, energy management is controlled by the utilities. Also, the roll out of the smart grid is going very slowly. These are huge challenges for a start-up to confront.”

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