Learning Revit MEP from any Direction

What was your introduction to Autodesk® Revit® MEP? Did you jump right in and start drawing a full plumbing layout in 3D with everything connected in a working system? Or did you start by putting in a few plumbing fixtures in a floor plan and drawing lines to show where the pipes should go?  Most likely your first Revit project looked like what you might have done in 2D AutoCAD®. How do you move into the full BIM world and still get your job done?

If you are an educator or trainer, maybe you understand Revit MEP, but now you need to teach Autodesk® Revit® Architecture and Autodesk® Revit® Structure. How do you go about it? If you are a BIM manager, maybe you came from an IT background rather than engineering, so how can you work with programs that are not in your field of expertise and learn the newest releases on top of that?

Using a new tool—especially one as complex as Revit—is always a challenge, but it can be made simpler by following a few steps.

Leverage What You Know

First of all, you need to leverage what you know. If you are moving from another program such as AutoCAD into Revit, look for the similarities.  When I first opened Revit way back in version 5.1 (Figure 1) I didn’t know how to do anything, but using my AutoCAD skills and understanding of graphic user interfaces I was able to get around.

Figure 1

I found out that many of the AutoCAD commands had related tools in Revit. You might be drawing a wall, duct, or pipe in Revit and it is basically the same thing as drawing a line in AutoCAD. Inserting a component is similar to inserting a block. You add text and dimensions in both programs. As a matter of fact, I learned quickly that placing dimensions in Revit was easier than doing it in AutoCAD once I got the hang of it. Most of the modifying tools such as Move, Copy, and Rotate were there too. They worked a bit differently (even years later I pick the wrong side to trim) but they were tools I understood overall.

Still, Revit and the whole BIM world is a big jump from the primarily 2D world of AutoCAD. It helps to look for other areas and concepts you understand well that help you make the leap. Because Revit is created specifically for designing a building (as opposed to any graphically reproduced concept) you can put to use your knowledge of the “real world” of building and system design.   Looking at a 3D view in Revit is exciting (Figure 2) because you see how the project would be replicated in the real world.

Figure 2

The elements in Revit such as walls, ducts, and pipes are not just two lines side by side a certain distance apart like they were in most 2D AutoCAD drawings but they have height, thickness, materials, and other useful parameters.  Your knowledge of what things should look like and what information they should hold in an actual building can help you relate to what you are seeing in Revit.

Of course, if you already know one version of Revit such as MEP, but now need to move into other disciplines, then leveraging what you know takes on a different look. The graphic user interface is the same, the methods of drawing and inserting elements are the same, how you get around the project is the same. So, basically, all you need to learn are the discipline-specific tools. 

But, there is a bit more to it than that. As you work in a different discipline you also need to learn how to use the general tools in ways you may not have needed to before. For example, typical Revit MEP and Structure projects use a linked Revit model created by the architect (Figure 3). But if you are coming from the world of Revit Architecture you typically don’t start projects that way. You are the one drawing those walls and doors that will be linked in. So, a linked model in Revit Architecture is more likely to be a duplicate building on a site or, in large high-rises, a duplicate floor. It is the same tool and same process, but different purpose.

Figure 3

So whether you are jumping into Revit for the first time or trying to learn more about it or one of the other flavors, leverage what you know. Use your knowledge of other software programs, of your discipline, and of Revit in general to kick-start your move to productivity with the software.

Get Help for What You Don’t Know

Working with software that changes in the blink of an eye is not a place where you can wall yourself away from others and expect to become proficient in every area, no matter what skills you brought into Revit. One of the best things about working in a community such as AUGI is there are always people out there who are willing to share what they know. If you get stuck, you can do a quick search on forums and blogs to see if someone else has already solved your dilemma. And of course, you can always read AUGIWorld.

As I was working in a MEP project setting up spaces I was getting frustrated that I had to turn off the grids and turn on the interior fill of the spaces with every new section that I cut.  For a while I just kept turning them off in each view. I complained to a coworker (not even looking for a solution) and he said, “Why don’t you use a View Template?” Duh. I set up a section view with everything turned off and on the way I wanted it and created a view template from the view (see Figure 4). Now when I cut a new section to see spaces I have an easy solution to a previously annoying problem.

Figure 4

There is even more you can do with templates in 2013 but I haven’t tested it to see how it could make this workaround even smoother. Maybe I should ask for help.

If you are working in a different discipline than the one you “grew up” in it helps to get insights from others who know the discipline. If you are a BIM manager with a plumbing background and you oversee Revit for a group that includes electrical and HVAC designers, get insights about what is needed from them. Your Revit experience will help but it may not translate exactly to other fields.

It also helps to learn tricks to make an entire project run smoother across disciplines. One of the best things I learned recently is how to prepare views in the architectural project with minimal information showing.  When MEP engineers set up their views they can then access the views in the linked architectural project through Display Settings. This was covered nicely in last month’s AUGIWorld.

So, don’t struggle by yourself when you hit a snag while working in Revit. Get help.

Build on Your Own Skills

It is good to leverage what you know and to get help for what you don’t know, but your goal is to become the go-to person for Revit in your office. Therefore, you need to build your skills over time.

Of course, excelling at anything requires time. Just like you don’t start playing Mozart sonatas the first year you take piano lessons it is rare that you will learn everything there is to know about shared parameters while working on your first project in Revit. In that first project you may not even know that such a thing exists. But if you start creating schedules and tags you need to learn them inside and out. Or, for another schedule example, you might start with a simple Air Terminal Schedule with just a few fields and minor formatting but you can build up to creating more complex schedules such as this Space Airflow Check (Figure 5) that includes conditional formatting and embedded schedules (MEP only).

Figure 5


Finally, a great place to learn Revit from any direction is creating families. I don’t recommend trying to learn how to do this when you are working on a major project that needs to get out the door. As a matter of fact, not everyone needs to know how to build a family. But, if your job calls for this then you can apply the steps covered in this article.

You already know how to draw reference lines and add dimensions, so leverage that knowledge as you create the parametric framework of a family.

You use type and instance parameters when you insert elements but you aren’t sure exactly how to create new ones, ask your co-worker who has created families.

You finally built your first family and it works! Now build some more. Each one you do will shed light on how it is done and how to make them better.

You can learn Revit no matter which direction you are coming from. Leverage what you know, get help for what you don’t know, and build on your skills over time.

Martha Hollowell is an Instructional Designer with ASCENT- Center for Technical Knowledge.  Every year she writes and updates training courseware for Revit Architecture, MEP, and Structure that is used by trainers around the world. After practicing in the architectural world for a number of years using AutoCAD and earlier versions of AutoCAD Architecture, she has been a trainer and writer for Autodesk products for almost 20 years. Visit the company blog at  where she posts new articles regularly.

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