Building simulation: Optimizing safety, efficiency, and comfort

Efficient and sustainable construction begins with modeling real-world conditions. Building simulation lets designers predict and optimize factors that inform building performance, from structural strength to environmental factors.

Image courtesy of ARBA Studios

A building rendering shows solar analysis.
A rendering of the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus, Ohio, showing solar radiation analysis on the windows. Image courtesy of DesignGroup and the National Audubon Society.

What is a building simulation?

A building simulation is a 3D, computer-based model that replicates real-world conditions to analyze how they would affect a building. As a result, engineers, architects, and designers can optimize many aspects of a building’s performance, including energy usage, thermal comfort, lighting, and environmental impact within that digital sandbox. Architects and engineers use simulation tools to assess and refine designs before construction, for informed decision-making and more efficient and sustainable built environments.

 A building model shows energy usage and structural elements.

A rendering of an Autodesk office renovation models many building aspects, including energy usage and structural elements. Image courtesy of KlingStubbins.


Types of building simulations

Depending on the scope and goals of your construction, you can simulate various types of elements to understand how they interact with your proposed project, as well as pre-existing constraints such as local building codes:

Energy usage:Models energy consumption and performance to optimize building energy efficiency, assessing the impact of design choices,  HVAC > systems, and insulation on energy usage.

Thermal simulation: Evaluates the thermal performance of a building, analyzing factors such as heat flow, temperature distribution, and thermal comfort. Thermal simulation helps design spaces that maintain   optimal temperatures with minimal heating or cooling.

Daylight simulation: Determines how to combine sunlight and shading to make occupants comfortable and reduce artificial lighting needs.

Airflow simulation: Models how air moves within the proposed structure so that designers can create efficient ventilation and ensure high air quality indoors.

Solar radiation simulation:  Examines the impact of solar radiation on a building’s performance, evaluating shading, solar heat gain, and the potential for integrating solar energy solutions.

Acoustic simulation:  Models the impact of ambient sound in a building.

Fire and smoke simulation:  Simulates how fire and smoke would spread, with goals of increasing survivability, making evacuation easier, and putting out the fire.

Structural load analysis:  Simulates the forces and stresses acting on a structure to predict the structural integrity of a building.

Mechanical system simulations: Predicts heating, cooling, and airflow loads to optimize building mechanical, ventilation, and HVAC systems for efficiency and comfort.

Needs will vary, but the goal of building simulation remains the same: helping designers and engineers make informed decisions during the planning and design stages so they can create sustainable, safe, efficient, and comfortable buildings.

Benefits of using software for building simulation

Software-enabled simulation eliminates guesswork in critical aspects of the preconstruction process. It gives engineers, architects, and designers a clear idea of how real-life interactions (with the elements and human occupants) will affect their structure so they can design with resilience in mind.

Precise performance analysis

Simulation software provides a detailed and accurate platform for analyzing critical aspects of a building, including energy efficiency, thermal comfort, and lighting. This precision helps designers enhance the usability of the building in a wide range of scenarios.


Cost-efficient design optimization

By simulating design scenarios, designers, engineers, and architects can identify and rectify issues early, reducing the need for costly modifications during or after construction.



Instead of trying to mitigate a project’s environmental footprint during or after construction, building simulation software empowers designers to build for sustainability from the start and implement eco-friendly features at the planning stage.


Greater occupant comfort

Predict a building’s occupant comfort throughout the year, which translates to a healthier and more productive environment for building users.


Early detection of performance issues

Building simulation software facilitates early detection of performance issues such as inadequate ventilation or thermal discomfort, so designers can address potential challenges before construction and mitigate project risks.


Adhering to standards

The building simulation process doubles as a sandbox where designers can ensure their projects comply with industry standards, local regulations, and energy efficiency requirements.


Software section

BIM 360 is a construction management platform that connects, organizes, and optimizes projects from design to construction.

Plan, design, construct, and manage buildings with powerful tools for Building Information Modeling.

Powerful BIM and CAD tools for designers, engineers, and contractors, including Revit, AutoCAD, Civil 3D, Autodesk Forma, and more

Building simulation resources

Browse Autodesk resources on virtual simulation for construction projects of all sizes.

In this paper, Autodesk Research scientists propose an end-to-end pipeline that uses graph neural networks to automate the structural design process for buildings, minimizing the material mass and satisfying the building codes.


Learn how Autodesk’s CFD (computational fluid dynamics) suite enables design and construction consultancy Sudlows to simulate airflow, thermal footprints, and energy efficiency for data centers before construction commences.


BIM/VDC veteran Manuel Frey shows learners how he uses model-based building-performance simulations as an integral part of the planning process chain, from data management and quality control to analysis and visualization.


Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about building simulation

What is building simulation software?

Building simulation software is a type of computer program designed to model and analyze building performance factors including energy usage, thermal comfort, lighting, and overall environmental impact.

What are different types of building simulation?

Depending on the type and scope of the project, building simulations can be used to model energy usage, thermal performance, natural lighting, airflow, acoustics, occupant behavior, and structural integrity.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a building simulation?

Virtual simulations can help architects, engineers, and designers model environmental impact; optimize projects for energy efficiency, thermal comfort, and lighting; and detect issues at the pre-construction stage. However, building simulations offer limited accuracy and can delay project kickoff because of the iterative process required.