Building America Research Teams: Spotlight on Alliance for Residential Building Innovation (ARBI) and Building America Research Alliance (BARA)

January 14, 2015

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R&D→Innovation→Partnership→Demonstration→Market Transformation—hallmarks of Building America, DOE’s premier residential building research program since 1994. Critical to the success of Building America are the expert-led research teams, who use an industry-driven, cost-shared approach to make high performance homes a reality for all Americans. These multidisciplinary research partnerships operate throughout the country and include engineers, architects, builders, educators, manufacturers, utilities, mortgage lenders, and others in the U.S. housing industry.

For the next few months, we will be shining the spotlight on specific teams. This article features the Alliance for Residential Building Innovation (ARBI) and Building America Research Alliance (BARA).

The ARBI team, led by Davis Energy Group of Davis, California, evaluates and demonstrates innovative building technologies, construction techniques, and

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deployment strategies for new and existing homes in the hot-dry and marine climates. The team also explores the various mechanisms and strategic approaches that can motivate homeowners to invest in home energy upgrades. Working from Davis Energy Group’s 20 years of experience with energy measure optimization, ARBI applies advanced modeling and analysis techniques to identify optimal, cost-effective strategies to achieve large-scale reduction of residential energy use.

ARBI projects have addressed advanced heating, cooling, and water heating systems; ventilation system effectiveness; and high performance building enclosures. In 2014, the team garnered a Building America Top Innovation award for its research on HVAC air filter sizing that prompted a change in the California Title 24 energy code. This change will encourage the use of higher efficiency filters without degrading HVAC performance. ARBI also actively supports the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) program in California. The team helped One Sky Homes—winner of a 2014 Housing Innovation Award—to meet the ZERH criteria while testing several advanced building technologies, including a night ventilation cooling system that cut cooling costs by 98%. ARBI is currently providing support for a project that will become the first ZERH-certified multifamily project in the United States.

The team is also working diligently to help DOE improve ZERH specifications for California and elsewhere. As David Springer, ARBI team manager, explains, “We have coordinated with DOE to modify the air leakage rates for multifamily buildings, to clarify rules for leakage from buried ducts in vented attics, and to identify methods for use of California-approved software for modeling mini-split heat pumps. Also, we are provided details on the California specification for high performance attics that is under consideration as a proxy for ducts in conditioned space.” Learn more about the ARBI team.

The BARA team, led by Building Media, Inc., combines technical and real-world construction experience with communications and outreach expertise to bridge

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the gap between research and market integration. The BARA team focuses exclusively on improving the energy efficiency of the more than 130 million existing U.S. homes by developing effective communication tools and resources for remodelers and contractors. The BARA team multidisciplinary members—Building Media, Inc., the New Jersey Institute of Technology Center for Building Knowledge, and Confluence Communications—also explore specific technology areas that can radically improve home performance.

BARA communication projects include Building America outreach products and activities (see “What is Building America?”); community-scale Neighborhood Stabilization Program projects in Las Vegas, Nevada; the Cool Energy House demonstration project (with an interactive view of kitchen energy-saving features; and a variety of online training materials for industry professionals. BARA’s work to pave the way for accurately valuing energy efficiency improvements for homes during a real estate appraisal resulted in a 2014 Top Innovation award for the team. BARA led discussions between the Appraisal Institute and RESNET that resulted in the implementation of the Residential Green and Energy Efficiency Addendum. This agreement helps real estate appraisers consistently and adequately value above-code energy efficiency improvements in new home construction and remodels.

“The BARA team balances our collective experience in residential research projects with market transformation programs to advance Building America goals and objectives to the broadest possible audience,” says Darren Harris, Co-President, Building Media, Inc.  BARA’s technical and program-specific projects include the Heat Pump Water Heating outreach initiative, a swimming pool pump efficiency study and resulting Building America guidance, evaluation of packages of energy measures used in the  New Jersey Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, and various demonstration projects across the country. Learn more about the BARA team.

Watch for future spotlights on other Building America teams.