CBS Newsletter
Spring 1994
pg. 1

Energy Efficiency Through Multimedia

It's been some time since you last went window shopping. This weekend, you're replacing several panes broken by next door's Little League baseball player. You figure you'll go to the local hardware store and match a style with the dimensions you've scribbled on the napkin in your pocket; nothing to it. Instead, a sales rep leads you to a computer monitor that proceeds to ask questions about your house, tell you about energy-related window characteristics, and prompt you to try several replacement window configurations, furnishing energy use and cost information for each. You've learned more than you ever imagined about windows with specifications that will lower your electricity bills and help the environment. It was your first multimedia information experience.

Jack Thorpe, Michael Wilde, and Saba Rofchaei demonstrate the new DOE Office of Building Technologies Multimedia Kiosk.


Most people have heard something about this new computer-based technology. Multimedia is the most visible manifestation of a profound communications revolution affecting science, business, and education. It combines computer-based text, graphics, photos, animation, video, and audio; anything that can be digitized. An essential ingredient of multimedia is its interactive experience, a stimulating, user-directed exploration of information.

Quick to pursue this new technology, the Building Technologies Program began conducting multimedia research more than eight years ago. After initially slow progress during the technology's infancy, research blossomed. Today, five multimedia projects are either complete or in progress. All five have taken shape as either educational kiosks or design tools.

Educational kiosks use multimedia technology to package information in exciting ways, making the learning experience more rewarding. The kiosks employ touch-screen monitors and navigational "buttons" through which text, photos, computer animation, audio, and video are accessed. The philosophy behind these kiosks is that a combination of media types can best illuminate the subject matter. A kiosk's instructional designer can express an idea more clearly, and the user can understand it better when text appears next to a picture or video clip than if the text or photograph stands alone.

The Southern California Edison Kiosk, funded by SCE, was designed to explain the power utility's incentive programs, advise designers concerned with energy efficiency, and provide general information about how energy is used in buildings. The target audience includes the staff of SCE, building owners, and industry professionals (architects, developers, and engineers). The kiosk was developed to transfer information about the utility and efficient technologies to the building industry.


The Building Technologies Multimedia Kiosk, a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, dispenses information about energy use in buildings and the research "know-how" of the national laboratories, including LBL. Several media formats; text, photography, laser-disc video, digitized audio and video, and computer animation; have been incorporated into the kiosk. Developed for the IBM PC, it is perhaps the first true multimedia project undertaken by the Building Technologies Group. The kiosk was designed as a portable unit and is scheduled to visit DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as regional support offices and building industry events during 1994. In the future, the information in the kiosk will be published and distributed on CD-ROM.

The design tools developed in the Building Technologies Program focus on using multimedia technology to help designers make decisions about real-world energy-efficient designs. Multimedia is particularly useful here because the design process requires architects to consider and manipulate many different types of information. They call on graphics to describe buildings or objects, photographs and video to establish a context for the design, numeric information about building energy performance or cost, and textual information concerning codes and standards specific to the site location. Multimedia's ability to combine these media types makes it ideal for design-tool applications.

PowerDOE is a user-friendly, interactive version of the DOE-2 energy-simulation software with a multimedia interface. It is much simpler to use than standard DOE-2 input routines and includes pull-down menus, component libraries, graphical representation of the building and its performance values, optional links to CAD packages, and the ability to run calculations on generic building types early in the design process. The program structure is designed to allow independent developers to write their own "analysis modules" that can be linked to the PowerDOE software and integrated with the user interface. PowerDOE 1.0, funded by the Electric Power Research Institute and DOE, runs under Windows on the desktop PC and is slated for completion in early 1995.

The Energy Design Advisor (EDA) is a tool that helps architects and builders quickly evaluate different solutions in the schematic design phase by allowing them to change design elements easily and see how their changes affect overall performance. This analysis is performed by the PowerDOE tool, described above. The complexity of PowerDOE is hidden from most users unless they choose to access it. Added multimedia functions allow designers to "walk through" buildings in a case-studies database, listen to interviews of building occupants, see photos of the site for which they're designing, or browse through manufacturers' catalogs to see which lighting fixture looks best. When completed in the spring of 1995, EDA will be available free of charge to building industry professionals. Two modules funded by Pacific Gas &Electric, SCE and DOE, including the case-studies database, are currently under development.

The Residential Fenestration (RESFEN) tool helps users select efficient windows for the home. It was originally developed for use by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) to determine annual energy ratings (see Seeing Windows Through) and is now being developed for other users in a multimedia kiosk format. Users enter information about their homes, such as location and construction type, through an easy-to-use interface. Then they choose a window element, such as glass or frame type, and the kiosk provides energy use and cost figures for that element as it would behave in the home. RESFEN has been developed as a stand-alone kiosk that could, for example, help customers in a local hardware store with their window choices. In fact, a working version of RESFEN is now assisting homeowners in a Los Gatos, California, window store. RESFEN exists in Macintosh (SuperCard) and IBM PC (ToolBook) formats.

The Building Technologies Program's multimedia project has only begun exploring the potential of multimedia technology. Its current slate of projects calls for a multiyear effort with support from DOE, local power utilities, and other sources. The phenomenal increase in computer capabilities and the simultaneous decrease in cost have assured multimedia a role in the development of design tools and information kiosks at LBL.

Info icon

Jack Thorpe
Michael Wilde
Building Technologies Program
(510) 486-6847; (510) 486-4089 fax


The Multimedia Development Lab has created interactive products for industry and government:

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