The value of any software package is determined by how well it suits and performs a given task. Within a range of reasonable usability, the more focused the software, the more effective the specific results. This is part of the reason for modular software development. Though aware of cost factors, an estimator is not overly concerned with the details of accounting. Neither is an HVAC engineer excessively interested in the daily functions of production control. However, any software that provides a clean route of data exchange between various business components holds extra value.
Individuals rank software by their own criteria. Some favor ease of use. Others prefer superior technical support. This article will not focus on any specific HVAC software. Neither is there a particular order of importance attached to the list, for that too is a matter of personal priorities. We merely address some of the primary features that should be available from within any HVAC design software package.
As to ease of use, a HVAC software menu should follow standard Windows format. There is no reasonable purpose for deviation. Toolbar headings should be intuitive, flowing in a manner that mimics an HVAC engineer’s thoughts.
Accurate and complete calculations are indispensable to design software. Load estimating and system sizing should not be counted as a cost add-on. Heating load, cooling load, and solar radiation calculations are essential HVAC software purposes, as are peak zones and coil load calculations. Sizing and evaluating systems, whether central rooftop units, self-contained elements, or water source heat pumps should be a standard software function. Ideally you should be able to supply the HVAC software with basic building information, and then receive an accurate sizing and load information report. From there, you analyze and design the HVAC system as best suits cost and restrictions.
Consider also the Computer Aided Design (CAD) capacities of the package. There must be some means of visualizing the design. Integration with an existing CAD application can increase compatibility and data exchange with vendors and customers alike. Look also, for 3D coordination support. Even if the HVAC software provides a custom CAD module, make certain that 3D is available when necessary.
Report summaries, data sheets, spec sheets, ventilation readouts, system sizing feedback, and calculation records are but a few of the hard copy options that should be available. Look also at the supported report formats: RTF, PDF, HTML, and others.
This is not an all-inclusive list. The following US Department of Energy web link may provide some invaluable assistance:
Some 377 building software tools are listed, including both free and commercial HVAC evaluation software packages, covering load calculators, duct sizing, energy analyzing, equipment selection, system design, and more.
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