12 ways to improve your Revit plumbing template

By Aaron Coppersmith, CPD, GPD, LEED BD+C

This article is written with the intermediate Revit user in mind, assuming that your firm has already spent the time and resources necessary to develop a basic Revit template and content needed to facilitate your design efforts.

This year marks a decade since Autodesk expanded its Revit platform to include the MEP disciplines. At the time, Revit was already a viable and user-friendly design tool for architects, but many plumbing engineers quickly realized that the transition to Revit MEP, and ultimately the leap from CAD to BIM, would prove to be a challenge. 

Flash forward to present day, and Revit has largely become the BIM software of choice for the AEC industry. Like most products and services, over time the MEP portion has vastly improved; and the majority of plumbing engineers have not only adopted but embraced the concept of parametric design. Similar to when the industry made the transition from board drafting to “sticky backs,” and then to CAD, we have adjusted our workflows and developed templates and content that have allowed us to adapt and function effectively in today’s BIM environment.

Still, issues can arise while modeling in Revit. It may seem far easier to make “quick fixes” on the fly, but it is important to take the time to address them globally in the Revit template. Otherwise, the next project uses the flawed template with redundant issues, and the same fixes are required all over again.

Whether you work in a large or small firm, and are hands-on with Revit development, or have dedicated IT staff to help, chances are your Revit template and content can benefit from some fine tuning and adjustment. With all of the basics in place, here are a few ideas that can help improve your Revit template.

Use shared parameters and schedules to automate fixture unit calculations

Schedules in Revit are capable of performing and displaying calculations, although they may be viewed as somewhat limited when compared with the sophistication of Microsoft Excel. These capabilities can nonetheless be applied for the user’s advantage.  

By creating shared parameters for drainage fixture units (DFU) and water supply fixture units (CW WSFU and HW WSFU), a schedule can be created that will automatically show fixture counts and totalize sewer, domestic cold water and hot water utility demands. These shared parameters can either be inserted into each plumbing fixture family individually, or be assigned to a project parameter; and then applied to the entire plumbing fixture category in the model.  

These parameter values will appear on the schedule, indicating quantities of each fixture type with subtotals and grand totals for fixture units. This can save a lot of time that would otherwise be spent manually counting, tracking and totalizing these items or entering them into a spreadsheet. It also allows for an accurate count of all plumbing fixtures that are present in the model at any given time.

Import spreadsheets for more complex calculations

In general, schedules in Revit are not well-suited to execute and properly display more complex calculations, such as hydraulic pipe sizing, booster pump sizing and sewage ejector sizing, among others. Simple text, drafting views or even Revit families can be used to display a calculation on the drawing sheets, but these methods all use inherently “dumb” text to replicate the work of a separate spreadsheet.  

Consider using a spreadsheet to export a DXF file, which can then be inserted onto a drafting view as a CAD Link in the model. Whenever the spreadsheet is updated, simply export it to the DXF file and reload it in the model.

Make use of parametrics to enhance your fixture and equipment tags

Beyond their use of simply identifying fixtures and equipment, tags can also be customized to display any additional information using type parameters.  For instance, every WC-1 fixture in the model can display “4 DFU” when that value is simply added to any one of them. 

Imagine tagging all of the plumbing fixtures in a 3D view with not only fixture designations but also with fixture units. Plan checkers are getting used to seeing Revit drawings and will more often than not accept a 3D piping view in lieu of an isometric or flat riser diagram. Using this type of tag, a 3D/riser diagram can be quickly and easily produced, saving a tremendous amount of time and effort when compared with the task of generating “old school” riser diagrams that consist only of lines and text.

Tags can also be used to display instance parameters (specific to one instance), such as the square footage of the roof area associated with a particular drain. This is beneficial because each drain will potentially have a different square footage associated with it. This concept can be applied to many different types of fixtures and components.

Create filters to hide unwanted fixture types

Hose bibbs should not appear on a drainage plan, nor should floor drains show up on a pressure plan. Set up view templates with filters to show or hide these items as appropriate.  

To do this, a type parameter can be added to fixture families, and then a filter can be used to hide the ones that should not show.

Create a master keynote template file

Plumbing keynotes can be standardized and saved in a master keynote text file. One-off notes will always need to be added on a per project basis, but it is a significant timesaver to begin with a well-developed set of standard keynotes 

Editing keynotes in a text file can be difficult, so try using third party applications such as “Keynote Manager” (found in the Autodesk App Store) that can help users edit and manage these notes much more efficiently.  

Create incremental pipe sizing charts for your template

These items will be used repeatedly, so why not add them to the template?  

Place all of the domestic hot and cold water pipe sizing charts on the calculations sheet. When it is time to conduct hydraulic calculations, just remove the ones that do not apply.

Create construction lines

Construction lines can be helpful when modeling in Revit. Create some linetypes specifically for that purpose, using a bright color and a heavy line weight so they really stand out.

Create a view template for working sections

Most sections created in Revit are used as working views, not sheet views. As such, set up a default “View Template” for sections to display in wireframe and include the linked models of other disciplines such as mechanical, electrical and fire protection.  Set this as the default view template for whenever a new section is cut.

Create more pipe slopes

Beyond the standard ¼-inch and 1/8-inch per foot slopes, it is helpful to add 6-inch and 12-inch per foot slopes for branch line takeoffs. The preferred drainage layout method is to drop branch lines into main lines at a 90-degree (vertical) angle.  

But when the pipe elevations are too close, fittings will not allow for this, and either a 45-degree or 22.5-degree branch takeoff will need to be run instead. People often struggle to rotate pipes into an angled position to achieve this. Model these pipe takeoffs using the proper slope and Revit will comply.

Eliminate repetitive sheet assembly tasks

Set up and prepare all sheets in the template before a project is started. Use your firm’s default sheet index, and insert all standard content so that it is ready to go. Architects typically prefer engineers to follow their sheet name and numbering scheme, and will provide a project specific title block, but it is an easy task to rename sheets and replace title blocks.  

The point is, all of the lead sheets will have already been populated with general notes, abbreviations, legend, symbols and the like; and only minimal editing will be required to suit the project. Each of the floorplan sheets will have a keynote legend in place, ready to be completed.  Fixture and equipment schedules will be in place and will auto-populate once families are added to the model.  

Typical details that are used on most projects will have been placed, and any non-applicable ones can be deleted; and project-specific details can be added throughout the process. The list can go on, but needless repetitive sheet assembly tasks should be done once in the template, saving time on each project from that point forward.

Convert general notes, demo notes, abbreviations, etc. into schedules

Many firms use simple text, drafting views, or even Revit families for these items, but they work much better when they are placed into a schedule format.  

Schedules simply behave better. They can be easily split into multiple columns and then quickly resized with a drag of the mouse. They can also be formatted for aesthetics and will always align text into neat uniform columns. Schedules offer a dynamic quality that makes them work well for this purpose. 

Streamline general notes by adding ‘editing notes’

Once general notes are converted into a schedule format, simply add an “Editing Notes” column that can include comments; examples include “Modernization Only” or “Confirm with Architect.”  

This allows for a quick initial pass before getting into more detailed editing. Once any non-applicable notes have been deleted, this column can be easily hidden so that it does not appear on the sheet.

Revit is a powerful resource for the plumbing engineer. Out of the box, its features and capabilities offer a variety of benefits, but user customization is necessary to reach its full potential. A modest investment can yield substantial returns. Take time to tailor and craft a Revit template that fits the unique needs of your organization’s plumbing discipline. 

Aaron Coppersmith is a senior plumbing design engineer in the Southern California division of Southland Industries. Southland Industries is a national MEP building systems firm. Coppersmith is a certified plumbing designer (CPD), green plumbing designer (GPD), accredited LEED BD+C, ARCSA AA, and dedicated BIM advocate. He can be reached at acoppersmith@southlandind.com

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