How to Integrate BIM into Small Practices

Architecture designer's office
Architecture designer's office. Aping Vision / STS // Getty Images

If you haven’t heard of Building Information Modeling (BIM), my guess is that you’re not in the construction industry. BIM is taking the construction world by force, with government contracts increasingly requiring its implementation.

But for small contractors, BIM seems like a far-off dream.

It’s expensive, it requires training, and it might not increase profits or decrease costs. Why should small practices even consider using it?

Let me be clear upfront: BIM isn’t for every firm. But too many companies are missing out on great opportunities because they are wrongly assuming that they fall into the ‘not for us’ category.

Does that include your company?

Below, this piece will cover how small firms like yours can pay for the upfront cost of BIM software, how you can manage training current employees on BIM, and how BIM can help grow your firm.

Handling Initial BIM Costs

Autodesk products are not cheap.

For example Revit costs just under $6,000 and Autodesk Building Design Suite Ultimate costs $12,075. And that just covers the software—training ranges from$300 to $2,000, and advanced training can cost substantially more.

But for companies just starting out, there are cheaper options. For example, there are various versions of free and open-source BIM software products. 

Luckily, there are also lots of state incentives to help offset the financial burden.

Many companies receive huge tax credits; for example, one mechanical contractor got 1.2 million in R&D tax credits just for using BIM before HVAC installation. And most companies can get a one to six-year tax credit for using BIM on certain projects.

Training

Once you’ve figured out what software package you want to start out with, you have to learn how to use it.

Autodesk offers training ranging from $300 to $1,800—a fee that usually hovers around $800 for an eight-week long program. Full courses can cost upwards of $4,650. Many alternative companies offer courses in Autodesk products that can significantly bring down those training costs.

If the price tag for training is too high, consider this: there are many free training options available online. I don’t recommend this for workers who struggle with self-directed learning, but it is a great alternative for firms just getting started. Consider:

  • Infinite Skills: This website offers very short (typically less than five minutes) video tutorials to get new people started and teach old pros the latest features.
  • Autodesk: These construction management videos won’t cover BIM’s full range and the site is a little difficult to navigate, but Autodesk’s free videos can help beginners start to use Autodesk’s software.
  • For British construction workers, NFB offers a plethora of open courses for a small fee (though at the time of this writing they are not offering anything).

Is it all worth it?

BIM can save your company money in the long run; its greatest strength is productivity. In fact, using BIM can increase your firm’s efficiency by up to 30%.

BIM also helps mitigate design failures during construction, saving your company time and resources.

And with so many government construction projects now requiring BIM, the software is essential for growing your firm to tackle bigger projects. As the industry shifts, construction firms with BIM will have a clear advantage over those who do not use this construction tool. It would be like forgoing construction management software and relying on graphs and pencils for accounting.

In the long run, using BIM regularly will offset the original investment in buying software and training.