Early Design Phase Energy Modelling

As an architectural firm in California, we like to do energy modeling at the earliest phases of design and like using Cove.tool. It’s quick, easy and in the projects we’ve built the end results line up with the projections received early on from Cove.tool. We’ve been happy campers. However leadership has given me direction to find a substitute that is free or substantially less costly. We last did our full analysis of the available tools in 2017 and at that time Cove.tool stood out in terms of performance and cost for our purposes and from what I can tell glancing around not much has changed. The best potential recommendation I’ve got to return to leadership at the moment is using the CEDA program (successor to Savings by Design) run by Willdan. If you are in California and do early phase energy modeling (and embodied carbon modeling) and like your process I’d love to hear from you. Thank you in advance!

Hey, Catherine! If you’re in Revit already, Insight is a good starting point for early phase energy modeling; I’d be curious to hear your experience using it in comparison to cove.tool - I know both tools have loyal followings!

For early phase whole life (embodied and operational) carbon analysis, there are a number of free whole life carbon tools out there -

  • Carbon Avoided Retrofit Estimator (CARE) from Architecture 2030 (useful for comparing new builds to retrofits and understanding the climate benefits of preserving existing buildings.
  • Early Phase Integrated Carbon (EPIC) Assessment - a ‘choose your own adventure’ tool that allows you to compare a variety of embodied, operational, and landscape measures (full disclosure - I help develop this tool!).

Neither EPIC nor CARE are energy modeling tools, but both allow design teams to translate the results from energy models (fuel mix and EUI) into carbon terms. I’m also attaching a super useful graphic from the recent RMI/USGBC report on embodied carbon in buildings - a decision tree describing when to use each embodied carbon tool:


Insight through Revit is extremely easy to use and can be done with massing models at early stages. It certainly has limitations from an energy modelling perspective but, from what I gather, these are the same limitations as Cove.

For single aspect assessments we use ladybug and honeybee through Rhino. Or we ClimateStudio (but that’s not free).


Thank you for your response! When we kicked the tires on Insight there was no change in energy use when we altered a building’s envelope to be all glass and changed its location to be in extreme climates. So we did not have much confidence in it’s accuracy. We even coordinated with the Insight team and could not find a solution. That said, if you’ve had good experience with Insight, perhaps we should take a second look.

Thank you for sharing!

design PH has worked well for early phase energy modeling. I believe it is less $$ than Cove.tool but also less robust (which is appropriate for early phase). BEAM is fantastic for basic Carbon Accounting. It is free.