Ask a Modeler: How Do You Get People Excited About Building Energy Modeling?

Ask a Modeler is a new monthly advice and discussion column in the IBPSA-USA newsletter, think Dear Abby for energy modelers.  We want to hear all your interesting, entertaining, or just plain odd questions about life and building performance simulation. Each month, we will match an interesting user submitted question to a selected expert to get their unique take.  We hope that sharing these questions and insights will bring value to your work and possibly make you think about building performance modeling from a new point of view.  

How do you get people excited about building energy modeling? – Bored in Baltimore​

This question really caught me by surprise, I mean who does not get excited by heat pumps, they are practically engineering magic! However, we heard from several readers who feel like they can’t talk about their jobs without boring the other guests at dinner parties.  One solution might be to find dinner parties with more engineers, your local IBPSA-USA chapter meetings would be a great start. If you bring your phone to parties, you also could show some of the great graphics from Project StaSIO in between selfies from your last vacation and pictures of your pet. But if that is not enough, my recommendation is to talk about everyone’s favorite subject.

And what is that recommended topic? No, it’s not politics, religion, code compliance, or utility rate structures. The one thing everyone loves to talk about is themselves! Almost everyone lives, works, and spends a large majority of their time in some type of building. Buildings are a fundamental part of human existence and our job is to help make them better, that is cool right? Your friends might not know the difference between a Therm and a thermostat but you can ask them if they’ve ever been too hot or too cold in a building. Our job is to help make sure that doesn’t happen. They might not know the local code minimum outdoor air rates but they might have experienced a stinky, stuffy building. Everyone can probably think of a time they’ve been in a building with bad lighting and contrast that with a nicely daylit scene.  Not many people would know what a 50,000 Btu/hr air cooled chiller is but I am pretty sure most people understand how much $50,000 dollars is. Did you know that the school your kids go to might spend that much, or more, on energy bills each year? What if their school could save 25% of that money and use it to pay for some raises that their teachers deserve?  

Our work helps people live, work, and spend their time in better buildings, at a lower cost, and with a smaller environmental footprint. The details of our work might be hard to understand but the outcomes are relatable to everyone.  Plus we do it all with computers, science, and a lot of human interaction. I think that is pretty cool. If all of that still fails to impress the other guests you can always just tell people you work in the modeling industry…..

Dan Macumber
Board of Directors IBPSA-USA
Engineer with NREL Commercial Buildings 

Do you have anything to add or your own answer to contribute? Please share your thoughts by emailing askamodeler@ibpsa.us; you are an expert too! Do you have your own question for the expert? Submit your question to be considered for a future column. Note that questions requiring an immediate response should be submitted to the community of experts at unmethours.com. If you are interested in replying to a question as a featured expert or have any other feedback about Ask a Modeler please email askamodeler@ibpsa.us.