Building America Update: September 2015

September 9, 2015

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Building Designers of the Future Unite—and Compete!

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Creative minds, youthful energy, and competitive tension are the perfect ingredients for a student competition to inspire and develop the next generation of building science professionals. This invigorating opportunity is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Race to Zero Student Design Competition.

Registration opened last week for the third annual competition, which will task 40 student teams with:

  • Designing a zero energy ready home (ZERH) or multifamily building
  • Presenting these designs to a panel of expert jurors
  • Defending their ideas in hopes of winning the single grand prize.

Teams are required to be multidisciplinary and are encouraged to consult with industry advisors about real-world ZERH options. The ZERH website includes information about available resources.

The Race to Zero competition will be held April 16–17, 2016, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Undergraduate students, graduate students, and university faculty are all invited to participate in this competition and learn about creating sustainable homes. To get started, faculty advisors should submit an Intent to Participate to racetozero@eere.doe.gov. Potential participants can learn more about the competition and its requirements in the Competition Guidelines and watch the 2015 Race to Zero competition video to get a feel for how students will benefit from the competition. In the video Sam Rashkin, chief architect of DOE’s Building Technologies Office, notes, “It’s so inspiring to see them so excited about what they did and what the future holds for them.” The competition is training the next generation of architects, engineers, construction managers, and entrepreneurs to consider zero energy homes in a whole new ways. These young people are the future of energy-efficient design.

Zero Energy Ready Homes Housing Innovation Awards at the EEBA Conference!

It’s that time of year again; the 2015 Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) Housing Innovation Awards are just a month away! This year’s award ceremony will be held Oct. 6, 2015, at the EEBA Excellence in Building Conference & Expo in Denver, Colorado. Since 2013, the DOE Housing Innovation Awards have recognized leaders in building innovation who are changing the way homes are designed and constructed, with a goal of providing better places for Americans to live, supporting stronger communities, and enabling a more economically and environmentally resilient nation.

The 2015 Housing Innovation Award winners were selected from four building categories: custom, production, affordable, and multifamily. This year’s awards feature 27 homes from 24 builders from around the country, each of which achieved superior home performance in a ZERH-certified home. A grand winner from each category, selected by an esteemed panel of judges, will be announced at an awards ceremony in Denver.

If you can’t be at the awards ceremony in person, stay up to date by following #2015HIA on Twitter and Facebook to check out all the action!

The "Zero" Movement Begins—The Tour of Zero National Campaign

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All homebuyers are ultimately looking for a better home at a lower cost. In zero energy ready homes, the monthly utility bill savings often easily exceed the additional monthly mortgage cost for proven innovations that provide superior efficiency, comfort, health, and durability. The next challenge is mobilizing consumers across the country to experience this difference so they can make more informed home purchase decisions, and this is where the DOE Tour of Zero comes in. The tour provides the opportunity for visitors to take a virtual tour of zero energy ready homes in every major U.S. climate zone and browse extensive photographs, homeowner testimonials, lists of innovations, floor plans, and key statistics including data on incredibly low or no annual energy consumption.

The national campaign is where you come in. DOE needs Innovation Partners vested in high-performance homes (e.g., manufacturers, associations, non-governmental organizations, utilities, and government programs) to engage American consumers to take the Tour of Zero and see the homes of the future that are available today. Collectively, we can increase homebuyer awareness and interest in zero energy homes that are better for homebuyers, communities, and the nation.

Plan to attend the first webinar on the Tour of Zero national campaign on Oct. 13, 2015, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and learn more about this important opportunity to change the housing landscape. Watch for further DOE announcements or visit the Zero Energy Ready Home website for more details.

RESNET Proposes Amendment to ANSI Standard for Airtightness and Airflow

The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) has proposed an amendment to the ANSI Standard for Testing Standard for Airtightness of Building Enclosures, Airtightness of Heating and Cooling Air Distribution Systems, and Airflow of Mechanical Ventilation Systems. The proposed standard has undergone a public review and comment process, and public comments have led to the amendments proposed by the RESNET Standards Development Committee 300.

Comments can be submitted through the RESNET Amendment Comment Online Form. RESNET will only accept comments that address parts of the amendment that are formatted with strike or underline font. Comments will be accepted until 45 days after the publication of the notice of changes in the ANSI Standards Actions, and you can immediately review your comments after submitting.

Department of Energy Seeks New Teams and Venue for Solar Decathlon 2017

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 is offering up to $2 million in prize money for teams selected for the competition. Colleges, universities, and other post-secondary educational institutions are invited to submit proposals that will be reviewed, scored, and ranked based on a merit review process. The student teams that are selected to compete in Solar Decathlon 2017 will have two years to build a home that demonstrates the affordability and comfort of a sustainable lifestyle. Learn more about this opportunity.

DOE also announced up to $4 million in funding available to one recipient to organize, manage, and conduct the Solar Decathlon competitions in 2017 and 2019. The awardee will be responsible for identifying and providing the location and venue for the Solar Decathlon competition, soliciting sponsorships, hosting the competitions, and awarding $2 million in prize money to the competitors. Learn more about the funding opportunity.

DOE Publishes Final Report on Climate-Specific Passive Building Standards

Under a U.S. DOE Building America Grant, the Passive House Institute U.S., in cooperation with Building Science Corporation, has completed a three-year research project that produced cost-optimized climate specific performance targets for more than 1,000 climate locations. The metrics represent the "sweet spot" where aggressive carbon reduction and energy efficiencies overlap with cost-effective building solutions. The final DOE report is now available for download.

Building America Supports Regional Adoption of Low-e Storm Windows as a “Proven” Energy Efficiency Technology

After decades of DOE investment in developing low-emissivity (low-e) storm windows, the Bonneville Power Administration has adopted the technology as a “proven” energy efficiency measure. Low-e storm windows have a special clear metal coating on the glass that helps minimize the transfer of heat through the glass to keep warm air inside in the winter and outside in the summer. The designation means that Pacific Northwest utilities can immediately design programs to encourage installation of low-e storm windows in their service territories; two utilities have already set up pilot programs.

The “proven” designation comes after Building America and other funding partners conducted validation experiments at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s (PNNL's) Lab Homes. The Lab Homes are two identical manufactured homes that have been equipped with an extensive array of sensors, meters, data acquisition, and control equipment to enable researchers to:

  • Better understand how buildings can more smartly interact with our power grid and utilize renewable energy sources
  • Understand both the energy savings potential and the economic viability of various building energy efficiency technologies entering the marketplace.

The controlled whole-house experiments and multiple field studies sponsored by DOE demonstrated a 10%-35% heating and cooling savings from the installation of low-e storm windows compared to single-pane and double-pane clear windows. The savings from installing low-e storm windows were roughly equivalent to the savings from window replacement with double-pane low-e windows; however, the storm window installation cost only about one quarter the cost of window replacement.

A copy of the report describing PNNL’s research findings can be found at the Lab Homes website.

Building America Sept. 24 Webinar: Building America Solution Center Overview

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America program 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: September 24, 2015: 12:00-1:30 p.m. EDT

This webinar will provide an overview of the Building America Solution Center (BASC) and how best to use several available tools. Presenters Sam Rashkin (DOE) and Chrissi Antonopolous (PNNL) will be diving into the details of:

  • Using sales binders bundle relevant BASC guides for each model home, custom home, or standard construction practice
  • Using the Building Science Translator Sales Tool to prepare customized point-of-sale fact sheets listing key innovations by attribute (e.g., comfort, health, efficiency) 
  • Using field guidance packages, including construction images from BASC, for targeted measures of concern, and using the mobile app for these packages
  • Building science presentations using content from the BASC guides
  • Precedence packages for presenting empirical basis for measures of concern to code officials or key builder decision-makers. 

Register now, and visit the Meetings page to stay current about upcoming webinars and view recordings of past webinars.

This Month's Residential Successes: High-Performance New Construction

This month’s residential successes provide examples of Building America research projects that highlight indoor air quality systems.

Building America in the News

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:

Field Performance of Inverter-Driven Heat Pumps in Cold Climates
Traditionally, air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) have been used more often in warmer climates; however, some new ASHPs are gaining ground in colder areas. These systems operate at subzero temperatures and many do not require backup electric resistance elements. There are still many unanswered questions regarding these pumps, including:

  • How are capacity and efficiency affected by cold weather?
  • How cold is too cold for ASHPs?

In an effort to better understand and characterize the heating performance of these units in cold climates, the Building America team, Consortium for Advanced Residential Buildings (CARB), monitored seven inverter-driven, ductless ASHPs across the Northeast. This assessment was accomplished with long- and short-term tests that measured power consumption; supply, return, and outdoor air temperatures; and airflow through the indoor fan coil.

Case Study: Calculating Design Heating Loads for Superinsulated Buildings - Ithaca, NY
Superinsulated homes offer many benefits, including improved comfort, reduced exterior noise, lower energy costs, and the ability to withstand power and fuel outages under much more comfortable conditions than a typical home. The tighter building envelope reduces the heating and cooling loads, requiring much smaller heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning equipment than for a conventional home. During the winter of 2013–2014, the CARB Building America team monitored the energy use of three homes in the EcoVillage community in climate zone 6 to evaluate the accuracy of two different mechanical system sizing methods for low-load homes.