10 Tips for Transitioning To BIM in Your Architecture Firm

BIM or Building Information Modeling delivers powerful features to visualize design concepts and analyze building performance throughout a project’s development. For small architecture firms transitioning to a BIM platform from CAD can be challenging – the transition can take considerable time and expense to happen.

Here are my favorite tips on transitioning successfully to BIM workflow, based on my experiences in firms large and small.

The first 8 tips take a holistic view on BIM, however if you’d like more specific details on best practices and utilization of BIM see #9 Basic Best Practices and #10 Tips For The Advanced User below:

1. Know what to Expect

It takes an average of 3 months of daily usage to become proficient with using a BIM software platform. This is a process of experiencing the highs of ‘wow, this is an amazing time saver’ to struggling through the lows of ‘I hate technology, I should just draw my plans.’ I’ve heard it all and helped even the most resistant of individuals see the light that is BIM once you get to the end of the tunnel.

This wave of emotions is to be expected and time delays in project production will happen at first so plan for it at the forefront of scheduling deadlines.

That said, not all projects should go straight into BIM when you are learning the platform. If a client has delivery requirements that are not conducive to your production skills then do not set yourself up for failure.

Remember – as you learn the differences between the 3D environment of BIM in comparison to the 2D world in CAD, you will slowly develop capabilities and efficiencies that you could not achieve previously.

A change in window type can be made only once which would automatically update your schedule, elevations, plans, sections, legends, perspectives … heck, even your specifications if you have it configured correctly. It all comes down to our next tip.

2. Get Your Templates Right

No one likes to spend office time creating new templates or hiring consultants to develop templates, but this is a wise investment for the long haul!

Starting out with a standard already in CAD is a good start … if you don’t have a standard template or components to pull from – you’re already behind the ball. However, you need to understand that the process for how you use your old CAD content might change.

For example, the CAD line weights and styles you’ve developed can SOMEWHAT be replicated in a BIM platform but there are minor details that you’ll need to let go in order to adopt the bigger picture.

A project template can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes you to coordinate a set of drawings in BIM. Having a title block built with toggle parameters that call for different information (graphic scale symbol, north arrow rotation), having standard views already placed on sheets with your view templates applied to control visibility of 3D components, and having materials already assigned to different wall types, door panels, etc. is one way to speed production along – and let you focus on the design while offering the client more value in deliverables and service.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

With all the possible time-savers and feature offerings with BIM comes great responsibility. A door placed in your model needs to be changed, so you change it. Well, you MIGHT have just changed every other door as well because you are changing the Type Parameter rather than an Instance Parameter.

Oh, you also just messed up your schedule too!

One of the best ways I’ve found to get the hang of BIM is to build your current home in BIM – you know, with all that free time you have.

Start by building up your own house as it will give you all the basic functions of the platform; placing walls, floors, roofs, doors, etc. You will get a quick understanding for how to do the basic functions in BIM and you can move on from there.

In the 3 months of becoming fully aquatinted with our friend BIM, you’ll progress into more intermediate skills.

Now you realize that placing a room object allows you to add information (that’s the ‘I’ in BIM) for room name, finish materials, ceiling height, etc. which can all be referenced in a schedule you’ve placed on your drawing sheet.

Remember, baby steps here – just practice.

Then you might get to the stage when you can QUICKLY take those rooms into an energy analysis program to show your client that using a ‘X’ siding with ‘Y’ flooring and ‘Z’ windows shaded by an overhang of ‘123’ generates less heating costs.

4. Different Levels of Details

One thing I always see people get hung up on is over-detailing the 3D model. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Understand that even though you are utilizing a 3D platform to generate your services and deliverables does not mean you NEED to model out the electrical outlets or spice rack.

The industry has developed comprehensive guidelines to define the different levels of detail contractually for larger project coordination such as AIA E202-2008: Building Information Modeling Protocol Exhibit.

But for smaller projects it will be more a matter of the time you spend vs. the value provided. Trying to add too much detail can be a bottomless rabbit hole that destroys your productivity.

If a client wants renderings of the kitchen layout, perhaps a spice rack would be appropriate – although there are more efficient ways to accomplish the same thing.

The practice I follow is to model out the overall envelope of the building – this is your primary geometry.

I utilize components that are pre-built for generic 3D representation – furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

Remember that the more you model into your project the slower the model will become, even with the most powerful of computers.

Beyond the building shell and structure, I generally use 2D components (but not linework). This might be base boards, moldings, cabinet faces, etc. so that if changes are needed I can implement the changes rather than update the linework in every model view.


5. Stop It With Your CAD!

Yes, I know you can do it faster in CAD. The frustration during some of the low points in picking up the BIM platform in comparison to your current expertise in CAD is not an excuse to jump ship.

Accepting the status quo of production value is not going to allow you to take advantage of what BIM truly has to offer residential architects.

Can you easily export your CAD model into energy analysis software to generate solar impact studies throughout the year?

Can you generate shadow studies in each room?

It is these expanded capabilities that will provide real added value for your clients.

A quick example from a large firm perspective is the process for structural coordination with MEP. Overlaying the consultants’ drawings will show you errors that arise as you look over the set. However, exporting two models into a clash detection software can quickly show you that the slope of piping will interfere with a beam. You can catch this issue now rather than in the field during construction.

6. Invest in a Standard Library

Similar to setting up a finely tuned project template, a standard library of components will go a long way to making your production life much easier. Having components work properly and are customizable is important.

Perhaps having a quality control parameter for low-end, standard and high-end fixtures and finishes will quickly generate reasonably accurate cost estimates from your model. Maybe you hate the way generic planting components look in plan (I know I do) so you want to use your more articulate CAD symbol to represent them without manually placing them over again.

The key here is to identify areas of your production that are time-consuming and building a standard library of components and details to improve upon those processes. Much like reusing or modifying a standard detail in CAD, BIM components can significantly reduce the amount of project time needed to deliver high-quality design evaluations.

7. Sell the idea to your Clients

As nice as it is for you to be able to offer your clients more, you should be getting paid to do so.

Educate your client on how your services using BIM differ from a CAD approach and how this will give your client more value.

Energy analysis based on numerous design layouts for wind, daylighting, heating and cooling requirements are all feasible with relatively little effort. The return on investment depends on your creativity!

Once you are proficient in utilizing BIM and its many capabilities you should be able to offer your enhanced services at a premium rate.

If a client will be able to visualize their project through renderings and perspective of the spaces rather than rely on material samples and floor plans, then this is a great reason for them to hire you.

8. Don’t Settle – Keep Going!

In the architecture industry, we are often slow to embrace change.

Once you get to a point where BIM has become a standard tool in your production kit – I challenge you to continue developing your skills and push the boundaries. Augmented Reality apps, for example, exist in the marketplace now that can take your 3D model and overlay it onto a site using GPS – your client could open their phone, walk around and see a new construction design right there on their site.

Consider using other applications that could tie into your existing BIM platform to enhance your services and design analysis further. Even if these tools are not specifically applicable to the homeowner, having more information at your fingertips enables you to make better decisions earlier in the design process.

9. Some Basic Best Practices

Make sure your project template is as lean as possible.

For residential projects, keep the model under 50MB is ideal. Once you get over 100MB you probably over-modeled and have too much stuff slowing things down.

New releases of Autodesk Revit come out around April, but as a best practice, wait a month or two before upgrading … let someone else run into any errors or problems before they release an update.

Keep a clean model that doesn’t have too many views as this will affect performance. Did you know you can have a ‘standard Revit file’ that has all your basic details and views which you can insert into your model? This helps keep a lean production model.

Never explode a CAD file inside of your BIM file. Although you can certainly link in a CAD file for reference or even if you’d like to use it as your view, if you explode the CAD file to convert your CAD lines to Revit lines … things may seem hunky dory now, but your BIM file will be a mess of miscellaneous line styles, groups and errors down the line.

For residential projects, it is easy enough to build different design options into your model without creating a new file. This way you can capitalize on configuring the set of drawings and properties only once.

Then, when a design option is selected and approved by the client you can ‘accept’ it into the model which will delete the others. However, I recommend saving a back-up if it is a major design option… you never know when the client may want to revert to a previous design option (and having that backup can be a life-saver).

Create legend views for each set of notes (demo, floor plan, MEP, etc.) so you can place them onto sheets as well as an overall general notes page. That way you can update the language once and you’re all set.

Have a standard set of annotation notes on a drafting or legend view to pull from so you don’t forget what needs to go on the sheets. This helps get Design Development sets assembled more quickly, especially if you have some production help from an architectural drafter.

The best advice I can give if you have a question or project is to ask. It is better to quickly get input from your retailer’s support helpdesk than to struggle and waste additional time and expense.

There are also many great resources available online like forums and FAQs.

10. Tips for the Advanced User

Keep walls, floors, and roofs generic at the start of your design.

As long as you built the model with appropriate location line constraints you will be fine when changes arise.

Always try to think ahead.

If the outside dimensions to face of stud are the key factor in design criteria, make sure your walls are created using Core Face: Exterior. If a clear distance between finish drywall is important like in a hallway, make sure Finish Face: Interior is selected.

Create levels for Top of Footing, Basement, 1st Floor, 1st Floor Plate, 2nd Floor, 2nd Floor Plate, and Roof. When you create objects, attach them to the level and extend to the floor plate. This way if height elevations change or adjustments need to be made for visualization fixes, it will be easier to do.

Phasing in BIM can be your best friend or worse enemy. Learn how this feature works and use your model to properly show existing, new construction and any future phases the client might want. I know some people create a Demo phase, but this isn’t necessary.

Naming conventions are a big deal when handling BIM.

Even if it is only you working in the model, being able to quickly reference a specific component with SOME sort of standard helps. Don’t just leave views, components, and assemblies with generic names. You’ll thank me after a few projects are produced and you need to reference past items.

Finally, here’s one last tip based on a question I’m often asked: what do you recommend for computer specs?

For reliable performance out of BIM on smaller residential projects … use these minimum Autodesk guidelines for computer specs:

Microsoft Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 64-bit
CPU Type – Single- or Multi-Core Intel® Pentium®, Xeon®, or i-Series processor or AMD® equivalent with SSE2 technology. Highest affordable CPU speed rating recommended.
Memory – 4 GB Ram (I recommend at least 8GB)
Video Display – 1,280 x 1,024 with true color. DPI Display Setting: 150% or less
Video Adapter – DirectX 11 capable graphic card with Shader Model 3
Disk Space – 5 GB free disk space (often overlooked but will impact performance!)



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.

3 Responses

  1. Great article !!! I need quick advice. I am an Architect based in India. Currently doing Indian projects on revit. Want to start Revit outsourcing works for USA. Can you please advice on how to get started.

    1. I would create an example set of drawings that you can use to show USA-based architects that you know who to draw to US building standards.

  2. Super awesome tips Enoch. Tips for Bim is really important and i will also say that bim is future of construction industry so everyone should take bim knowledge in every manner they can..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

708,245 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments


How To Double Your Architecture Firm Income In The Next 12 Months

Fill out the form below to get free, instant access:

Related Articles