Natural Solar Heating Cooling & Lighting

I am going to use SketchUp as the modeler interface for OpenStudio and Energy Plus to optimize natural solar heating, cooling, and lighting. In order to build such building models, I need floors, roofs, walls, windows, doors, HVAC, and lighting details. Also, I’ll need to go between 3D and 2D, and document client markups as the project develops. Which Extensions should I use to model these?

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I would suggest you spend a little time getting to know the software and then ask more specific questions when you start to know what it is you need.

Understood, but I don’t want to waste time modeling windows when there are extensions available for that. Likewise for other building elements. Moreover, I would prefer a recommended extensions that sorting through all available then make a downselect.

Most importantly, I need a budget to get started (other than SketchUp Pro).

@Box’s reply suggests some return questions back to you:

  • How much experience do you have using SketchUp? Most experts will tell you that it is folly to try to jump in expecting a suite of extensions to shortcut the learning curve. Extension are labor-savers, but they don’t substitute for knowing how SketchUp works!
  • Have you read about or thought through a workflow for your project(s)? SketchUp is highly flexible and there is nearly always more than one way to accomplish the same thing. Choice among them ultimately comes down to personal preference. The best suite of extensions ties to your chosen workflow.
  • Have you looked into pre-built component models in the 3D Warehouse? There are models (of varying quality and complexity) for many manufacturer’s standard windows and doors. You can add these into a model without using any extensions at all!

You say you need “floors, roofs, walls, windows, doors, HVAC, and lighting” but you don’t say to what degree of detail and accuracy you need them. Possibilities range from simple boxes with holes in the walls to fully detailed architectural plans. Only you and your client know the answer.

For example, does it matter whether these items look just like the ones in some real building, or can simplified generic ones do? Do you need internal structure so as to model the various materials, or will an aggregate R or U value suffice? I’m not being facetious, it can make a big difference in your interaction with your client. Models capturing only the essentials can save you a tremendous amount of time and could produce results that are adequate given the limits of the art (how many buildings have you been in where despite studies the HVAC has defects?). But your credibility could be on the line with a client who thinks that a simplified model isn’t to be taken seriously.

As to budget, the great majority of extensions are free or very low cost. Aside from realistic renderers, extensions don’t do anything you can’t do manually. It is always a tradeoff between labor time/cost and extension cost.


Hi Henry,

To use SketchUp with OpenStudio and EnergyPlus, you will need the OpenStudio plugin for SketchUp. You can download the plugin from the Extension Warehouse: Extension | SketchUp Extension Warehouse

You can find OpenStudio modeling and workflow tutorials from NREL’s website: Installation and Introductory Tutorial - OpenStudio<sup>®</sup> SDK User Docs

Models for OpenStudio are very simple. Do not model wall, roof, or floor thicknesses. You do not need to model window details (frames or mullions). Just a single plane of translucent material does the trick.

As the project develops, I recommend either saving new versions of the SketchUp model as design changes are made OR using layers and scenes within a single SketchUp model to keep track of design changes.

Sefaira Systems, a building performance design tool that runs EnergyPlus, is another application to consider. To use Sefaira Systems, you first create the building geometry within SketchUp or Revit; from there, you upload to the Sefaira Systems web interface (pic below) to dive deeper into HVAC options, energy use, and estimated operating costs. You can download an .idf file from any analysis in Sefaira Systems to take further into EnergyPlus on your own.

When it comes to modeling for Sefaira, keep it simple; building elements should be modeled only as single thin planes (no thicknesses). Assign entity types (glazing, roof, walls, shading, etc…) to characterize the building geometry. Check out the below images for an example of how to define the building envelope and entities with the Sefaira plugin.

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Thank you Alyson!