Early simulation work in the decision-making stage faces several challenges, including, for example, rapid changes of design, input variable uncertainties, and the lack of design information, although early design work represents a large percentage of energy saving potential. The availability of simulation tools for early design stages can help the architect analyze more alternatives. In this study, the existing simulation tools were explored and classified into three categories: simulation plugins based on the design software, geometry user interfaces for a simulation engine, and self-governing simulation tools. Each category’s typical tools were illustrated with their use, and a uniform standard comparison was conducted to screen tools that are available in the early design stages. The future trends of simulation tools are discussed in the second part: building databases based on existing knowledge, uncertainty and sensitivity analyses, and optimization. Time-consuming simulation is a problem in the use of simulation tools in early design stages. Advanced techniques were developed in this part for fast computing, i.e., cloud computing, parallel computing, meta-models, and more statistical methods. This paper illustrates the practical application of particular simulation tools in the early design stage, presents their limitations, and discusses decision-support tools for specific building design activities.
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