Building America Update - June 11, 2015

June 11, 2015

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Collaborative Resource Shares State-of-the Art Field Test Tools and Techniques

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Field testing is both a science and an art—a tricky process developed through trial and error. Efficient field test design is crucial for establishing the efficacy of new energy-efficient technologies and reducing risks for builders, contractors, and homeowners. Variation in the quality of field test plans and experiment design can result in inconsistent practices and ambiguous results, which can delay the market adoption of efficient technologies. Even experts in building systems research may lack experience in conducting some types of whole-house field tests and could benefit from easy access to guidelines and examples of well-designed test plans. No central repository has been available to house and share the collective knowledge that resides with national laboratory scientists, Building America research teams, and the greater residential building science community—until now.

The Field Test Best Practices website is a dynamic tool for collecting, documenting, and sharing best practices for field experiments and long-term monitoring of residential building systems. Developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the website is a continually expanding resource where building scientists can find detailed guidance on planning and executing a wide variety of field test experiments effectively and efficiently. Categories include Field Test: Start to Finish, Building Components and Systems, and Measurement and Instrumentation. The site’s unique organizational structure allows users to rapidly access content from multiple dimensions and dynamically create pages by assembling the content that is relevant to their particular applications. A facilitated forum allows users to exchange ideas informally. Technical and editorial reviews ensure high quality.

The Field Test Best Practices resource was created with a vision of crowdsourcing to gather practical field testing knowledge; therefore, it is continually evolving. NREL invites building scientists nationwide to contribute their knowledge and expertise to ensure that field tests are efficient and result in meaningful research findings. Learn more about the tool and how you can participate to boost the quality of research methods for high-performance homes. Visit the Building America Research Tools page to see more tools for researchers and building industry professionals.

Mark Your Calendars for 2016 Race to Zero Student Design Competition

Image of the winning team from the Race to Zero 2015 competition.
The second annual Race to Zero Student Design Competition was held on April 18-20, 2015, and encouraged students to work with builders, community leaders, and industry partners to create marketable, affordable zero energy homes. A new video captures the spirit and enthusiasm of the event!

With the success of the 2015 competition, DOE has announced the new dates for the 2016 competition, scheduled for April 16–17, 2016, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. The structure has been enhanced to include four categories: suburban single-family housing, urban single-family housing, attached housing (2-6 unit rowhome projects), and small multifamily (up to three stories). The 2016 competition guidelines will be available in August 2015. Learn more about how you can participate.

Building America June 24 Webinar: New Construction Hybrid-Ductless Heat Pumps Study—Resistance Is Futile

Building America brings you free monthly webinars that highlight the latest advances in residential building technologies and practices, presented by Building America research team and national laboratory experts.

Date/Time: June 24, 2015; 12:00–1:30 p.m. EDT

The June webinar will focus on the use of ductless heat pumps (DHPs) as a hybrid “all-electric” heating system in new high-performance homes. This system provides an ideal alternative to electric resistance zonal heated homes and can displace a large share of zonal electric heat. Presenters will provide an overview of DHPs, including energy and economic analysis based on monitored field results of an ENERGY STAR® community built by Habitat for Humanity. The community—The Woods at Golden Given—is located in the marine climate of the Pacific Northwest. Register now.

Presenters include:

  • Michael Lubliner, senior building science specialist, Washington State University Energy Program
  • Bruce Carte, conservation supervisor, Tacoma Power

Visit the Meetings page to stay current about upcoming webinars and view recordings of past webinars.

Be Recognized for Building Excellence! Apply for Housing Innovations Awards by June 17

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Builders, there is still time to submit your Zero Energy Ready Home for recognition of building excellence in DOE’s Housing Innovation Awards; the deadline has been extended to June 17, 2015. Applications are being accepted for the categories of custom,production, multifamily, and affordable homes. Leading builders who have certified zero energy ready homes within the last year (April 1, 2014–May 31, 2015) are eligible to apply. A prestigious group of jurors assesses the design, performance, quality, marketing, and business metrics for each proposed project. Apply now!

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Winners will be announced at the 2015 Housing Innovation Awards ceremony held on October 6, 2015, at the EEBA Excellence in Building Conference & Expo in Denver, Colorado. In addition to this special recognition, winners receive a customized case study that highlights their winning home, which will be featured on the Housing Innovation Awards website and in their profile on the Zero Energy Ready Home Partner Locator.


Building America Solution Center Shows Builders How To Save Materials Costs While Saving Energy

Image of a house under construction.
Several Building America field studies have pointed to the value of using advanced framing techniques to increase the amount of space in the walls for insulation while reducing lumber costs. In fact, Building Science Corporation determined that advanced framing techniques could reduce energy use by 13% and cut construction costs by about $1,000 per home compared to standard framing techniques; view the report. The Building America Solution Center offers easy-to-follow, illustrated, step-by-step guides for implementing advanced framing techniques in new construction and retrofits of existing homes.

For example, adding more studs into the wall than is necessary wastes lumber and reduces the wall’s thermal resistance because the lumber blocks wall cavity space that could be filled with insulation and because each stud represents a thermal bridge that can transfer heat between the interior and exterior of the building. Building America research has shown exterior framed walls can be adequately supported by 2 × 6 studs spaced 24-in. on-center; this technique reduces material and energy costs. Read the guide on minimum framing techniques.

Other advanced framing guides include constructing corners with two studs and drywall clips instead of three studs, using insulated headers over doors and windows rather than solid wood headers, using ladder blocking where interior walls meet exterior walls so insulation can be continuous at the intersection, and constructing walls with single top plates (one 2 × 4) rather than double top plates (two 2 × 4s). One other important advanced framing technique is to design walls, ceilings, and floor on a 2-ft grid. Because most sheet goods come in 2-ft dimensions (think 4 × 8 sheets of plywood), designing wall sections, window dimensions, etc., on a 2-ft grid reduces the time spent cutting materials and the amount of material wasted. By intentionally designing on a 2-ft grid, studs around doors and windows are minimized and studs in the ceiling and walls can align with the floor joists to correctly carry the load from roof to foundation—a necessity with single-top plate construction.

Zero Energy Ready Home News and Trainings

In June, DOE continues its Zero Energy Ready Home “Virtual Office Hours” webinar series.

Virtual Office Hours: Get the Answers You Need Quickly and Efficiently

Date/Time: June 2, 9, and 16, 2015; 12–1 p.m. EDT

Description: Whether you’re new to the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home program or have been involved for a few years, you may have a lingering question or two about qualifying a home. If you’re not in the mood to search another PDF or website for the answer—let us help! We talk to partners daily and realize that most of our partners could benefit from our answers and those of their peers. The webinar-based Virtual Office Hours will allow raters and builders to ask our program experts specific questions about rating and certifying DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes. The attendance for each session will be capped at 15 participants to allow for conversation and the sharing of ideas and solutions. Come join us and get the answers you need…quickly and easily! Register now to reserve your seat at the virtual table!

2015 GreenBuilder Magazine Home of the Year Awards Call for Entries

GreenBuilder magazine is seeking entries for its 2015 Home of the Year Awards, which will be bestowed on the top green homes that demonstrate sustainable features, innovative design, whole-home performance, and integration with the natural environment. Applicants may submit to one of three categories—general, mainstream, or alternative—and the homes must be completed or have first occupancy between January 2014 and July 2015. Winners will receive coverage in the December 2015 issue of Green Builder magazine and through the magazine’s social media outlets. Apply by July 24, 2015.

This Month’s Residential Successes: Focus on Technology Solutions for Building Enclosures

This month’s residential successes provide examples of Building America research projects that highlight energy-saving solutions for walls and roofs.

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Be a Citizen Scientist! Help Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Study Indoor Air Quality

There is still time to participate in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL) Range Hood Roundup; the data call runs through September 2015. Scientists from LBNL have spent decades exploring how everyday activities affect indoor air quality. Their recent study, described in Addressing Kitchen Contaminants for Healthy, Low-Energy Homes, found that cooking without proper kitchen ventilation often produces air pollutant levels in homes that exceed outdoor air quality standards. You can help this effort by completing a short survey about your cooking patterns and kitchen ventilation. LBNL will use the information you provide to develop recommendations for improving indoor air quality and health through better building codes and product standards.

Building America in the News (industry trade articles)

Here are recent Building America-related articles in popular national and local trade publications.

New Publications from Building America

The Building America Publications Library offers an extensive collection of technical reports, measure guidelines, case studies, and other resources to help you boost energy efficiency in new and existing homes. On the library page, you can subscribe to the RSS feed that delivers reports as they are published. Also, the Building America Solution Center links you to expert building science and energy efficiency information based on Building America research results. Here are samples of our most recent publications:

Existing Whole-House Solutions Case Study: Exterior Insulation Pre- and Post-Retrofit
In this study, IBACOS and GreenHomes America, Inc., were contracted by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to research exterior wall insulation solutions for enclosure upgrades. This case study describes the deep energy retrofit of three test homes in the Syracuse, New York, area representing these enclosure strategies: rigid foam insulation, spray foam insulation, and a control house that follows Home Performance with ENERGY STAR guidelines.

Community-Scale Attic Retrofit and Home Energy Upgrade Data Mining
Residential retrofit is an essential element of any comprehensive strategy for improving residential energy efficiency, yet remains a challenging proposition to sell to homeowners because awareness levels are low and financial incentives are lacking. The Alliance for Residential Building Innovation team implemented a project to increase residential retrofits in Davis, California, called Retrofit Your Attic. Data sets were uploaded to the Building America Field Data Repository. Key conclusions are that a broad-based public awareness campaign is needed to increase understanding of the makeup and benefits of residential retrofits, and a dramatic shift is needed so that efficient homes are appraised and valued at higher levels. The SAVE Act, proposed bipartisan federal legislation [S.1106], offers one way to accomplish this.

New Whole-House Solutions Case Study: Northwest Energy Efficient Manufactured Housing Program High-Performance Test Homes - Pacific Northwest
This project represents the third phase of a multiyear effort to develop and bring to market a High Performance Manufactured Home (HPMH). In this project, the Northwest Energy Efficient Manufactured Housing Program worked with the Building America Partnership for Improved Residential Construction team and Bonneville Power Administration to help four factory homebuilders build prototype zero energy ready manufactured homes, resulting in what is expected to be a 30% savings relative to the Building America Benchmark. Previous phases of this project created an HPMH specification and prototyped individual measures from the package to obtain engineering approvals and develop preliminary factory construction processes. This case study describes the project team's work during 2014 to build prototype homes to the HPMH specification and to monitor the homes for energy performance and durability.

Additional reports and case studies published recently are:

Visit the Building America Publications Library to access the entire catalog of publications to help improve the efficiency of new and existing homes.

Want to learn more about Building America or help us spread the word about the program? View the video, “What is Building America?” on DOE’s YouTube channel to learn about how Building America aims to bridge the gap between homes with high energy costs and homes that are healthy, durable, and energy efficient.

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