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Residential Design Program Evaluations_Final

Residential Design Program Evaluations_Final

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Published by: leglace on Feb 07, 2009
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05/10/2014

 
 
Residential Design Program Evaluations
As a residential designer who makes a living working in the homebuilding industry, I have learnedthat software is being relied upon to be more efficient. As homebuilding processes are gettingstreamlined, so should the design development phase. During the past few years, I have come to realizethat I am not alone on my quest for that next generation platform for residential design that can domore. Most people think of CAD products when they think of design software. The industry standard has been using Autodesk products, most specifically
Autocad
and its mate,
Architectural Desktop
(now just
Autodesk Architect
). As codes and permitting get more complicating, so have the amount of information required on the plans. As seasoned veterans retire from their trades, less experienced fieldworkers have replaced them. The demand has been growing for more information to be able to beextracted from the drawings and assist the building process. And most importantly, changes in designneed to be implemented easily. This has caused many people to ask more out of their softwarecompany in order to design homes. For myself, I wanted a program that knew it was building a houseright from the beginning, and would give me the tools to create plans first and foremost, while alsoadding Building Information Modeling (BIM) and strong modeling capabilities for presentations. As itremains, neither 
Autocad
nor 
Autodesk Architect
has been effective in this.I have always considered the residential market to be neglected when it came down to support fromsoftware companies. This goes specifically for Autodesk. In a broader view of the industry, this couldnot be further from the truth. Upon investigation, I have found a list of companies that focus heavily onresidential, and do a great job I might add. It started with a broad list of programs, and got narrower asthe investigation got more involved. I am left with 4 programs that seem to be very much capable. Thesemifinalists are:
Envisioneer, Chief Architect, Softplan, & VisionRez
I found each program’s strengths to benefit a different user. These are not, by any means, hobbiest programs. They are all cutting edge programs that allow you to build a house as you draw it. Whilemost people think of 
Revit
or 
ArchiCad
when they hear term’s like BIM, these programs also sharethose capabilities.
Revit
and
Archicad
was ruled out because they were not capable of building ahouse right out of the box. I found that for a small office, they required a lot more training and initialset up. More specifically
Revit,
in the respect that you need to create your own catalog of “families”(content). They are certainly worthy of being BIM benchmark reputation, but are more common inlarge offices where a CAD manager may be staffed full time. However, many people like myself are just looking for something easier, yet as capable.
 
 The investigation started by evaluating trial programs. Being an
Autodesk 
A
rchitect
or should I say
ACA
” user, it only seemed natural to try
VisionRez
from Americad first (http://www.visionrez.com/index.php) by ordering their trial CD.
VisionRez
works as a plugin for 
ACA
2008 & 2009, or a standalone with a limited version of the current
ACA
. Americad is a verywell supported company which is now owned by ITW, an international company specializing inconstruction software. They did not have anything in the form of an online support forum for  prospective buyers to see. There is, on the other hand, a great wealth of online videos. This programlists for $2,995.00 for the Residential Builder Suite 2009
 
standalone seat. It felt more along the lines of something I had wished from Autodesk. Being somewhat of a power user of 
ACA
, I felt like my searchwas done, already.
VisionRez
had added many more usable wall styles, intelligent roofs, take off capabilities, and manyother quantifiable building components than
ACA
. I navigated very well on my 1
st
try. But I struggleda bit when I tried to put something together. I had to learn their sequence for their toolbar buttons andtool palettes. From what I can see, it was capable of creating beautiful models and do some pretty goodtakeoffs. What stood out for me was that it was not only capable of creating quantities for sheathing, italso had the ability to create sheathing layouts to illustrate graphically.
VisionRes
certainly has someautomation added, above and beyond what
ACA
has. However, the modeling capability was not asautomated as I hoped it would be. I did find this program to be limited to the house you are designing,and lacking any tools for dealing with site design challenges. Nonetheless, this program is a realwinner.
VisionRez
is fully customizable since it is based on a CAD engine with an open API (open for 3
rd
party programs), and that is probably the biggest advantage it has over its competition. It drawsdirectly to dwg format, which is still industry standard. My vice was that I still felt like I was beingforced to use an outdated format for managing drawings. There are just too many requirements tofiddle with settings to get things to work. Something as simple as if you wanted to modify or create awall type and its displays, you better have a manual handy. I am certainly capable of dealing with this, but there are just times where I want my time spent on the construction docs. For me it was like I pulled into a new car lot driving a Toyota Corolla, looking for a more advanced vehicle, and wasshown a Toyota Corolla with new rims, more interior controls, and a great paint job. It was certainly better than what I have, but not anything groundbreaking. It still has the overly complex process of creating each drawing as a separate file, xref'ing it into a plot drawing into model space, creatingviewports in paper space, and adjusting the scale to bring that drawing in, repeating it over and over....I am fine with having better tools to manage plan creation. But I do not feel that we need to be confinedto the .dwg format if we do not have to. Today, the .dwg format is what the .dxf once was. I think of itas a cross platform transfer format since every program can import and export it. So there should belittle fear in switching over to other programs as it relates to working with vendors and consultants. If you haven't noticed,
Revit
has overcome this.I consider 
VisionRez
to be my fallback program at the moment as I searched for something a bit moretime efficient. Right now I would recommend this for only serious residential designer who have comefrom Autodesk products. The search shall continue.
 
My next move was to try out
Envisioneer
from Cadsoft (http://www.cadsoft.com) through their downloadable trial. Their support forum is very helpful. Judging by the forum members, it appears
Envisioneer
is very poplular “Down under”. The program listed at $995.00 for Version 4.0 at the time but now lists at $1,295.00 for V4.5, their cheapest bundle, excluding hardcopy books or trainingmaterial. What drew me to this program is its price. It was about 1/2 less than its competition. I believenow that V5.0 is about to be released, the price will go up a bit. Keep in mind that this is a very young program that still has a few nagging bugs, but I would agree that it would still be considered a bargain.
Envisioneer
was so easy to learn that I designed and rendered a house on my first day. It allowed meto create a custom wall in about a minute. I was able to design the interior a bit as well. It is fullyautomated, including wizards to create decks, kitchens, and even a house. I started to see some upsideto a non-CAD program such as this. Please understand, CAD programs are really programs built from acad engine to draw lines in great precision on a cartesian & polar grid. You do not get more precisethan a CAD program. However, these days, drawing on a CAD system may be compared to drawing onthe drafting board. You draw everything line by line, and work out the geometry.
Envisioneer
hasinstead built a CAD module into its program. This was sort of hit or miss in this case. The bad thingabout programs that have so much automation, is that they tend to be more limited. The good thing isthat their module worked a lot like a CAD program. It is evident that the focus was primarily in itsmodeling capability. It is one of the few programs to offer both raytracing and radiosity. And you donot need to be a computer genius to figure it out. They advertise what they call “stereo 3D”. This setsup the rendered model into a 3D mode with the use of 3D glasses. I ignored it as it sounded like anobvious ploy to get people into their booths at trade shows.As for its capabilities, it drew heck of a lot quicker than
VisionRez.
Your design can be whipped upliterally in under an hour. The menu is very well laid out that anybody can find what they need,regardless of experience. Moving walls is a snap. It utilizes temporary dimensions as you highlighteach wall. These temporary dimensions are linked to the highlighted wall in relation to a parallel wall.Moving walls around with precision is as easy as changing the values on the temporary dimensions. Ithas good site plan tools with an abundant planting library. The deck and roof tools are very easy tomodify. And the estimating module is actually pretty darn good. I got to really liking it until I dugdeeper, and wanted to start some construction documents. My concerns with the program were in howyou represent your objects. For instance, it does not show an interior side of the window sill. I had tomanually draw one in. Secondly, the plotting output was not crisp at all. It was one of the weakest plotdialogs I have ever seen. Most of the lines plot half tone. In order to fix this, you have to modify everylayer. And it doesn’t allow a default to be set to resolve this. And lastly, if you wanted to take your drawing from what it calls model view to where you have all your CAD tools, the drawing is detachedfrom your model. So any updates or changes to the model after the fact, require additional drafting.This means that the relationship between the model and the construction docs are not linked. This goesagainst the philosophy of BIM. My conclusion is that this is a great program for a remodeler who doesnot require a certain level of professionalism in their construction documents. Yet it is more capable todo a bit more.

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