BIM refers to "Building Information Modeling." What is that? It's an intelligent 3D modeling process that allows architects and engineers to virtually build your project before any work begins with various Softwares like Revit or ArchiCAD.
This process gives them advanced tools to coordinate and integrate all the systems that your project will have, like mechanical, plumbing, and structural elements.
The modeling begins in the early stages of a project, either in the Feasibility, or Schematic Design stage. It goes through permitting and construction, and, if used while operating the building, it could potentially never end.
How it Works
When architects moved from handrawn plans to CAD, it would have seemed like everything was similar, but just on a computer. CAD is, in fact, very similar to hand drawing. You draw lines, some are thicker than others, and some in a particular angle. Usually, the first draft has all drawings neatly coordinated and consistent. However, with the first revisions, the drawings may show errors in coordination and consistency, which is bad for the construction in the long run.
In a BIM process, each element that composes the 3D model contains different information and parameters. These elements later show the same information in various views or perspectives in a coordinated way.
The difference with CAD
Let's take a door as an example. In a CAD file, it would just be lines drawn to a specific width. If later changed in the floor plans and not in the elevations, door schedules, or sections, then the set would be uncoordinated. Imagine the contractor ordering the wrong windows because he read it from a non-updated door schedule. That avoidable mistake will cause you, the Developer, time, and money. Now, imagine that the door isn't the only change made to the project. With a BIM model, on the other hand, that door will be modified, and automatically updated in all the sheets and views of the set.
How does it benefit you, the Developer? (or Owner)
Compared to other processes, BIM has valuable benefits for your project and return on investment. We've already gone through a few, but if those didn't convince you, the following should.
You can visualize the project and make better decisions
The 3D model allows you to be better involved in the design process as you can accurately and instantly visualize the project from or to any angle you would like. CAD, on the other hand, must be drawn before seeing what how would look.
Furthermore, you have information about every element of the project. Walls, door, windows, roof, slabs, floors, driveways, grade elevations. And interior items like bathroom fixtures, appliances, or even furniture. Every element may have specific information and looks that help you make decisions to understand or expect the outcome of your project.
Fewer Mistakes and Risk Reduction
Digitally building your project before groundbreaking takes much of the risks out of the construction - when the cost of making changes is enormously higher - into the design, where changes are inexpensive. The digital structure allows us (architects) to check any clash or conflicts between the different systems of the project.
Reduced Construction Time and Cost
With fewer mistakes comes faster work and lower cost. As explained before, the cost of changes during the construction is enormous in comparison to making it in the digital building.
Some might argue that any design mistakes should be taken care of by the Design Professional. While that may be true, they are often limited to the cost of redoing or fixing whatever mistake made. However, it doesn't account for the time lost in stopping the work, repairing or repeating it, and the inertia to start again, not to mention the wasted time and money in lawyers. We all know that time is money.
Better Return on Investment
For a Developer like yourself (even for future homeowners), fewer mistakes reduce risks. Consequently, the return on investment, on paper, is sturdier. Marketing elements for sale purposes are easily created as they are usually very similar to the final product. In other words, it is essential to find an architect that uses BIM throughout all the development process! (design, permitting, building and operating)
The bottom line
A BIM model can be used for multiple purposes or phases, from schematic design with the analysis of different visualization options to the construction documents, with details, and specifications including model, manufacturer, color or materials.
It helps to reduce risks by lowering errors in the plans as it automatically updates schedules, drawings, and elevations throughout the project, and it quickly identifies conflicts between systems. All of which may bring higher costs if not taken care of before construction.
While it might be true that an Architecture firm using BIM may be more expensive than another one that isn't. But in the long run, it isn't. Great CAD working Architectural firms take their time checking that their plans, schedules, elevations, sections, and specifications are all consistent. Still, they charge for that premium. In our experience (doing peer reviews), low-cost firms usually can't afford that extra time CAD drawings require to coordinate the project's systems and elements. This cheap upfront cost will reflect into a costly construction cost in the long run, due to change orders, mistakes, and wasted time.
So, how important is it for a smart Developer (or a future Homeowner) like yourself, to hire an Architect that uses BIM as part of its standard services? Very! For the sake of your Return on Investment.