Sketchup, BIM and return on investment

I know that SU isn’t technically “BIM” but one can certainly embed a LOT of information about a project in a Sketchup model. Not to mention use that model to discover clashes, errors and omissions in the plan set and guide construction specifications and scheduling. Couple all this with Sketchup’s relative shallow learning curve and ease of use and, I think, we have a pretty compelling package for constructablity analysis. I know John Brock, for one, is deep into this.

There are studies out there that purport to document the return on investment for the cost to produce a BIM model at 200% - 500% or even higher. None of these studies, to my knowledge, are referencing the use of SU as a BIM platform. Nor, are they done in my specific field - construction of high end custom and estate homes.

Given this opening, here’s what I’m trying to do and looking for anyone here on these forums with any experience and / or ideas in this regard:

In my custom residential field, it seems most the players - contractors and a lot of architects - are as fearful of change as small children are of things that go bump in the night. I show these firms the level of detailing and information I’m providing in my construction models with the goals to 1) have them engage my services (of course) and 2) bring this archaic business, kicking and screaming if need be, into the 21st century. In my years in this field, I’ve seen far far too much waste caused by incomplete or misunderstood plans to be comfortable with my role in this waste.

To me, I look at any model I’ve created and the advantage of it to the building of a home is strikingly obvious and needs no explanation. But, I’ve always been a geek, so I am at a loss to know why others do not have this same reaction.

Therefor, I am trying to quantify the savings that my “BIM” model brought to my most recent project. For marketing purposes. And, here is where I’m looking for any thoughts / discussion - how to quantify this? Its hard to put a dollar cost on work that didn’t have to be torn out and redone because the model prevented the error from occurring in the first place. Its equally difficult to quantify the increased productivity / accelerated schedule that can be attributed to having a detailed model to refer to. Yet, in a conservative industry such as home design and construction, this seems precisely the information needed to make the case for modeling.

Has anyone had any experience in this regard? I’m all ears.

Thanks to all who make the effort to read through all this. Any thoughts or info are greatly appreciated.



Firstly, just to confirm do you use SU Pro, and if so, do you use any BIM extensions such as Mindsight Quantifier Pro or Plus Spec?

Ideally you would build 2 identical houses - one with BIM and one without to evaluate.

Practically, I would consider talking to professionals who do efficiency evaluations for construction or similar -they may be able to help or point you in the right direction.

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SU is the new BIM platform.

My thoughts on the subject are best summarized in this video:

I agree there is far too much waste and guessing and disconnect between the various trades. Given today’s technology and computing power none of these issues should even exist. Compared to other industries which I have worked in (Aerospace, Manufacturing) the construction industry is still in the stone ages, its time to change all that.

A simple, affordable, easy to use, flexible BIM platform is required for residential construction (not Revit). SketchUp fits the bill perfectly. Now we just need to develop the plugins that can make it happen.

What I have done so far with my suite of plugins is only a very small ripple in a very large pond. Whether or not I can fully develop these plugins to the level that they become full on BIM packages is yet to be determined. However, I do think that if nothing else I have gotten the ball rolling just a little further and faster and it is now unmistakable, the shear potential that SketchUp has as a BIM platform.

In order to make the embedded information more usable it needs to be available to the native SU Pro and LO features leveraging the auto labeling / tagging features. To do this developers must know/understand/be able to link this information to the SU Pro “Entity Info” field, however it seems therein lies the problem. This seems to be a bit of a problem as it’s currently either not able to do so, or it isn’t clear how it’s done.

BIM is more than just adding information to the model, it needs to be done in a way that is useful/interchangeable to/with other platforms/software, preferably in a bi-directional manner.


@GSTUDIOS - yes, I’m using 2018 Pro but I have not tried the extensions you name. Perhaps I should. “efficiency evaluations for construction”… hmmm, I’ll have to look into that.

@medeek - I agree, although I’m still waiting for the gable wall capability in your wall plugin.

@Julian_Smith - I have found that you can actually put quite a lot of text into the instance text box of either a group or component. Just can’t format it (line breaks) so too long a description extends beyond the confines of the SU window. I’ve read a note by @Anssi on the bi-directional interchangeability between BIM platforms, and he says the various platforms don’t play well together. He seems pretty knowledgeable.

Thanks for the input folks!


In the end, a quote is always two times the half of it. In my experience, when you focus on cost only, there is always someone cheaper. You don’t want to go that way. Off course, you will have to recalculate, but generally it comes down to volumes. No need for endless calculating and estimating in the high end sector for that matter.

BIM isn’t just cost and a (SketchUp) model, it is about sharing information and being on the same level with sub-contractors and the client, regardless their Software.

With Trimble Connect, you will have a perfect platform for your Building Information:

SketchUp, Revit, PDF, etc. etc. all working together!


SketchUp Pro is very good to apply with the BIM working method. Not only thanks to the powerful 3D functionalities, import and export functions, but also the possibilities that Ruby scripting offers to let SketchUp talk with other systems.

In the Netherlands, many companies (contractors, architects, suppliers) use OpenBIM where information is shared during a construction project in an IFC file format with all those involved. As a result, both geometric information and data / object information can be uniformly shared and reused.
These files (3D models) can then be checked and analyzed in software such as Trimble Connect as @MikeWayzovski says.

Personally, I would show the benefits of your SketchUp Pro BIM workflow through the information you reuse from the 3D model and the mistakes that you prevent.

Ultimately everyone wants to work more efficiently.


Here in southern California, BIM adoption in custom home design / build has made very little progress. Most builders are generally opposed to it, or opposed to spending the time to learn and incorporate it. For them, the BIM workflow is just too foreign from the “way we’ve done it forever” to be worth the effort. Most architects that are using any part of the BIM process are using Revit and take the view that anything done in Sketchup can’t possibly be useful. Its almost a hostile environment.


With Sketchup you can do very efficient BIM workflows, you just have to know how. I recently wrote a long article showing how you can use Sketchup for architectural competitions and creative work, while utilizing the full BIM capability.

The goal was to set up a workflow, that is very quick to do changes, results in models for quantity takeoff and do the 2D documentations.

Building Information Modeling for less than 1000 Bucks

Because of the ease of use and the early marketing of modeling for everyone, many professionals look at it and see something toy. I mean you work as a professional, so your tool has to be expensive and


The developers need to hear it from others.

@ChrisDizon @Aristodimos :slight_smile:

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I currently use Sketchup / vray for marketing purposes (brochure images), however I’m also separately involved with utilising various basic tech for collating information for BIM. That being said, we are still going back to using Excel to accumulate all this information, as it’s still the common ground with our clients. The visual aspects of floorplans etc are done in separate software’s.

As @Julian_Smith has mentioned, Bi-Directional information is key when looking at BIM software.

In the UK we had a big fire often known as ‘Grenfell Tower Fire’, which has generated a lot of debate (and action) in relation to the quality of buildings and the management of them. Buildings have many aspects to them which need checking (fire doors / fire stopping / security in general) and engineers need to be on the ground checking these frequently (weekly / monthly / yearly).

Getting that information from the engineers to then update the central log seems to be the tricky part (Bi-Directional).

Just so that I can understand what other people have looked into, what software’s have people looked into?

I have somewhat in detail looked into:

  • Viewpoint - Quite established but still quite pricey.
  • Autodesk Build - Fairly new to the game, ant not usable for what we require, but has potential.
  • novade - Quite similar to viewpoint.

My personal main areas of issue with BIM are:

  • Simple tech engineers can use to update the central BIM files
  • Clients not waiting to adopt new tech (as mentioned, it’s a sector that’s behind in the tech world)
  • Everyone probably going to use different system, therefore people will probably end up using the ‘microsoft’ of the sector e.g. Revit
  • Small companies not having the man hours to train on Revit or the likes of

The above problems, I believe, often result in excel just being used as the backup plan and the common ground for everyone. Each company then having their own system to work within internally, and then shared via excel.


Is BIM really necessary for small projects such as one-off new build dwellings or extensions/renovations in the domestic market ? This is the market where I provide Architectural services in the UK & no building contractor or client seems to ask for a BIM service in that regard & as such, I’ve not currently embraced BIM at all.

I may be wrong, but doesn’t every CAD or BIM CAD software rely on the information one inputs at the time of creating your CAD/BIM plans & doesn’t necessarily do this automatically ? Unless you input that information in the beginning or you’re using a previous saved symbol/component with the relative information.

In any event, Design Plans & then construction plans, in a 2D programme, have been traditionally used for many years prior to BIM. The level of detail is naturally up to the user.

So, whether you’re working in 2D CAD or a 3D CAD programme, all this information can be easily provided.

Prior to BIM capable programmes, these were typically promoted as very good 3D Parametric CAD programmes.

The key point of these 3D parametric or BIM CAD programmes, is that they’re capable of producing building elements in their whole form with all the associated layers & they work interactively with other building elements when inserting/building a model with automatic trimming etc.

Once the model is complete, you can then usually extract the same 2D CAD plans for the design or construction process & add more detail such as notes/dimensions etc as necessary.

Therefore, aren’t the more capable BIM CAD software programmes those which embrace parametric abilities whereby they generally trim/heal all the associated building elements as necessary when an edit or change is made.

Plain SU (without extensions) doesn’t have any architectural parametric abilities, which seems to be easier to undertake the BIM process for those programmes that do. Therefore, it would be interesting to see any short YOU-TUBE VIDEOS (by the-only-Aaron) to get the gist of how SU-Pro handles BIM.

It might come in play sooner or later, more and more governmental projects require a BIM model in the Netherlands, for instance. You could start embrassing and broaden the scope of activities, or provide a BIM model for your client as a service/ Unique Selling Point.
The ‘as build’ covers the longest period in the lifecycle of a building. Your service (or Maintenance) could include keeping track of the BIM model in a cloud service.


Why can’t I have a ‘perpetual’ building? lol

This can already be achieved in plain SketchUp, (well, you need a subscription license) by setting up a project in Trimble Connect. All objects that have data added can be inspected in the 3D Viewer and reviewed by stakeholders (eg. ‘members’ of your project).

The best way to add data is to use some kind of method and that this method becomes some kind of standard. In the netherlands, a bunch of contractors decided to communicate with the ILS-method, now coordinated by BIM-loket

With additional guidelines for individual software packages:

The level of BIM inside a company varies, if everyone uses the same Software like SketchUp (or Revit), it’s easy to be on the same level, cause you could work in the (same) working model and add data or jpeg/png/tables/animations in it.
To communicate with outsiders, one has to level-up and start communicating with stakeholders that probably use other software and workflows, therefore it would become necessary to exchange data in a uniform way (IFC-export)
To some extend, plain SketchUp needs to improve the export to IFC. That’s why @brewsky has developed the IFC-Manager:

This might depend on how they have created the families and categories. For instance, fire ratings or certain spans still has to be checked by the government (manually), you wouldn’t want it to be regulated by the manufacturer.

Oh, and if you have a subscription, you get the Trimble Connect Business Plan, which gives you access to the data extensions in Trimble Connect.


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Our company is around 15 people. People subcontract us for work (and visa versa), but we also work directly with clients.

As you have mentioned, almost any gov / public work now will require BIM in it’s various forms, primarily excel as a base level. However there is a lot more pressure now from private sector on BIM in regards to regulations / compliance / warranties / service info.

The UK GOV will require a minimum level of ‘Level 2’, however from our experience private companies have their own level of interest, but the key thing they are interested in is the raw data (Excel). In short, they want a nice simple spreadsheet to show the state of their assets e.g. are they compliant.

The issue we have is once the project has been finished, the maintenance team then needs to update records. At the moment this seems to be very messy, and collaboration between site managers and BIM / 3D designers is almost non-existent.

I have seen there are a number of programs which can harvest data (form filling software). Can Trimble connect / X plugin, connect this information with the form filling software e.g. Engineer > fill in digital form > update Sketchup file > Company owner views 3d + spreadsheets?

Once again, the key aspect from the clients point of view is really understanding the state of their assets. 3D drawings are great, but they aren’t great for summarising information like excel does. Therefore really the 3D stuff is more of an addon. However if you can do both easily, then I guess that’s going to add value to your company simply by being more swish / up to date than the next. I guess down the line, it will allow your company to be ‘BIM Level 3’ or likes of.

When working with GOV / blue chip, before they even consider you for tendering, there are 101 checks done (ISO certifications and the likes of). If you don’t comply to these, you wont even make it past the first door. BIM is already one of these for UK GOV, but 3D models isn’t required yet, but I estimate this to be more apparent in ~2023. The rulebook seems to be still in the making though!

You might want to inspect @kengey 's interactive dashboard in Power BI:


Yes the power of sketchup as 3D visualiser / editor and then linked to Microsoft’s database / general toolset would be very interesting indeed.

We looked down the Microsoft dynamics route before, but got stumped by the lack of visual representation (floor plans / 3d files etc). If Sketchup could be that visual, then that could be very powerful.

One issue we have with going down the route of an enterprise piece of software (viewpoint etc) is that only really they can work on it. If it’s from a custom database (Microsoft) then you have 1001 developers who can help you meld this accordingly.

I will look into this.

Hi Mike Wayzovski,

Thanks for the info on this subject, however, I’m not a fan of the SUBSCRIPTION direction & thus don’t want to move from my PERPETUAL SU Classic Pro version, so it looks like my SU-PRO-21 will be my last.

SU-Pro isn’t my everyday CAD software anyway, its DataCAD & this is just great for fast 2D Architectural plans. However, I’ve recently purchased ArchLine-XP Proffessional, ( as this embraces architectural parametric modelling, BIM (Tutorial videos - ARCHLine.XP BIM level) & also has an in-house rendering engine.

So hopefully this will be my everyday CAD software when I get more proficient with it.

SU HQ admitted sometime ago they won’t entertain any upgrade tools for basic architectural parametric modeling when I posted a wish-list, this was many years ago, I think BIM wasn’t on the RADAR back then. The parametric tools I considered were quite basic ones, just like FORM-Z.

As for TRIMBLE CONNECT, I’ve just found a YOU-TUBE video (Check Out Trimble Connect - YouTube) (by the-only-Aaron), so will view this to see how SU handles the BIM process.

Thank you for referencing 3DBI, Mike! I really appreciate it.

To give a short introduction: 3DBI is intended to visualize and utilize all data that is existing in your SketchUp model, though the power of Power BI. In a few clicks you can export your model and all its data (attributes, volumes, material areas, material lengths, ifc classification data, …) to Power BI and link it to even more data so that you can craft interactive and data connected dashboards.

Here is such an example dashboard that shows a material take-off (by using pure data coming from the SketchUp model): Microsoft Power BI
And here is a video illustrating how I made it: Material take-off breakdown by level 3D Power BI dashboard - YouTube

Now, the actual power of Power BI is that you can combine all kinds of data sources together. For example, the material quantities coming from SketchUp could easily be combined with a cost table in Excel (or database or webservice) to then visualize cost per element instead of only quantities. Or, imagine linking it with a construction schedule. (or maintenance schedule in this example: Microsoft Power BI)

The goal was to create a versatile tool that can do almost anything, without programming, by combining the easy of 3D modelling of SketchUp with the unseen capabilities of Power BI when it comes to connecting and visualizing data.

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This looks very interesting indeed, and could solve some of our problems. The issue I’m finding is bi-directional information.

Whilst I understand that information can be extracted from the Sketchup model, can it go the other direction also?

In other words, if someone is working on a spreadsheet / Microsoft database, can you push information from the Microsoft product back into the sketchup model?

In short we will primarily need to keep a solid database of products / maintenance dates / warranties etc (this is the bedrock of BIM) however, we will also need to see the 3D / 2D diagrams at some point also e.g. now that we know Door X123 needs maintenance, when we ask an engineer to maintain that door, it would be very helpful to know where they are meant to go. We can then click on that door to confirm it’s ID and status (needs maintenance of XYZ).

Once they have been to that door, and done the maintenance, we will update the spreadsheet / database. Once that is done, ideally we want the 3D model to update also.

I hope this makes sense?