California leads the nation in building energy efficiency standards and is a leader in the United States for legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving these goals in practice requires that design teams and owners have access to technologies, systems and decision support tools that support their design work. This California Energy Commission funded work on the COMFEN software tool, which gives building practitioners, such as architects and engineers, the ability to assess the energy consequences of building design decisions, is thus a key enabling element that supports the AEC community in achieving ever more stringent performance requirements. COMFEN can provide needed building design guidance to not achieve the shorter term code goals but supports more aggressive achievement of the net-zero energy performance and peak load reduction required for all new buildings by 2030 as well as supporting deep retrofit of existing building stock.
Achieving a net-zero energy building cannot be done solely by improving the efficiency of the engineering systems (HVAC, lighting, equipment). It also requires consideration of the essential nature of the building starting early in the design process, including factors such as architectural form, massing, orientation and enclosure. Making informed decisions about the fundamental character of a building requires continuous assessment of the effects of the complex interaction of these factors on the resulting performance of the building as the design evolves. The complexity of these interactions necessitates the use of modeling and simulation tools to dynamically analyze the effects of the relationships. Decisions about the building fundamentals are often made in the earliest stages of design, before a complete 'building' exists to model so that a focus on representative spaces in the building allows earlier guidance for the decision making.
COMFEN, an early-design energy modeling tool developed by LBNL, is designed specifically to make informed decisions about building fundamentals by considering the design of the building envelope, orientation and massing on building performance. It supports exploratory work early in the process by architects but is also useful for engineers and consultants later in the design process. It also supports innovation broadly as it allows teams to model new technologies and systems that are becoming available but have not yet reached mainstream status.
COMFEN focuses on the concept of a "space" or "room" and uses the EnergyPlus and Radiance™ engines and a simple, graphic user interface to allow the user to explore the effects of changing key early-design input variables for the façade, internal loads, lighting controls and HVAC system on energy consumption, peak energy demand, and thermal and visual comfort. COMFEN also provides the ability to import glazing systems that have been developed in Window7, utilizing the International Glazing DataBase (IGDB) for glass choices. Comparative results are rapidly presented in a variety of graphic and tabular formats to help users move toward optimal façade and fenestration design choices.
While the underlying simulation engines were developed over time as part of DOE's national windows and daylighting program, the specific design features of COMFEN were evolved over a several year period by consulting with a series of largely California-based architectural and engineering firms who provided important guidance and feedback on desirable features and then on functionality once the features were implemented.
COMFEN is available at no charge on the LBNL website.