Department of Energy Invests $11.5 Million in Building America Industry Partnerships for High Performance Housing Innovation

January 29, 2019

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The Building Technologies Office (BTO) announced it is investing up to $11.5 million in 16 projects to drive innovation and early-stage research and development that will improve the energy performance of building envelopes and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in American homes. In addition, projects will address key challenges impacting building industry design and construction practices.

Homes account for over 20 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and 37 percent of total U.S. electricity use, with household annual energy bills totaling $240 billion for the nation. For the average American household, that amounts to more than $2,000 in energy bills each year. More than 40 percent of this household energy use goes to heating and cooling homes. While building materials and HVAC equipment efficiency have improved over recent decades, a number of challenges continue to result in significant energy losses. With this funding opportunity announcement (FOA), BTO selected 16 project teams to study these challenges, and to test and validate emerging energy-efficient technologies and techniques aimed at addressing them.

The Building America FOA awards were distributed among three research topic areas, which include baseline in-situ fault analysis in residential HVAC systems, integration of advanced residential building envelope and HVAC systems, and gap analysis of building industry standard practices.

TWO BASELINE FIELD STUDIES OF RESIDENTIAL HVAC SYSTEM FAULTS

- University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL): “Investigation of the Prevalence and Energy Impacts of Residential Comfort System Faults -- Hot Humid and Hot Dry Climates.” The research team will collect field data, sampling 100 homes with newly installed central HVAC systems. The sample will include homes throughout the hot humid climate regions, and will provide representative baseline data on the prevalence and severity of residential HVAC system installation faults.

- University of Nebraska (Lincoln, NE): “A Field Study to Characterize Fault Prevalence in Residential Comfort Systems.” The research team will use a wireless fault monitoring system that it developed, along with site visit measurements, to build a database of fault data for 400-500 residential AC systems. These field measurements will be taken in seven cities throughout the U.S. The data will be used to develop fault prevalence functions; that is, the frequency of faults by type and by intensity.

EIGHT PROJECTS TO RESEARCH INTEGRATION OF ADVANCED RESIDENTIAL ENVELOPE AND HVAC SYSTEMS

- Center for Energy and Environment (Minneapolis, MN): “Aerosol Envelope Sealing of Existing Residences.” The research team will use an aerosol envelope sealing technology to improve envelope airtightness of existing buildings by up to 90 percent. The process involves pressurizing the house or unit for an hour or two while applying an aerosol sealant to the building interior. As air escapes the building through leaks in the envelope, the sealant particles are carried to the leaks and seal them.

- Boston University (Boston, MA): “Development of Advanced Measurement and Modelling Standards for Zonal Infiltration and Compartmentalization in Multifamily Buildings.” The research team will develop a simplified test method for measurement of air leakage in multifamily buildings. The simplified Zonal Multipoint Pressure (ZMP) testing method requires development of more robust models to better predict complex natural airflow and pressure mapping throughout these multizone buildings, based on long-term monitoring of natural pressure differences for low-, mid-, and high-rise housing in several climate zones.

- New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, NJ): “Re-Side Right: A Systems Approach to High Performance Re-Siding Projects.” The research team will field test and validate an advanced new system for re-siding existing homes with high-performance, graphite-infused rigid insulation, combined with a liquid flashing/sealing product, in climate zones 3, 4 and 5. Homes are typically re-sided only once every 25 years, usually without energy performance improvement. Thus, advanced re-siding is a unique opportunity to capture significant energy savings through air-sealing and exterior insulation that would otherwise be lost for decades.

- University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN): “Accelerating the Market Adoption of the Solid Panel Structural System and "Perfect Wall." The research team will conduct comprehensive structural testing of a solid panel wall system that includes superior energy performance at reduced cost compared to conventionally framed houses. This project will also explore how the advanced single-family structural solutions can be adapted to multifamily buildings, enabling construction of more energy-efficient, affordable housing.

- University of Alabama (Birmingham, AL): “IoT Based Comfort Control and Fault Diagnostics System (i-COMFORT) for Energy Efficient Residential Houses.” The research team aims to develop an innovative smart home energy management system including a low-cost sensor network, automated fault detection and diagnostics (AFDD) methods for both building envelope and HVAC systems that utilize the sensor network, and a prototype real-time smart home energy management system that integrates these components with smart controls to optimize home energy use and occupant comfort.

- Steven Winter Associates Inc. (Norwalk, CT): “Low-Load HDAC Comfort System.” The research team will conduct research to develop a new integrated heating, dehumidification, and air conditioning (HDAC) system for high-performance homes. The prototype HDAC system will provide 1-ton of space conditioning system that can better meet the specific heating, cooling, and humidity control loads of energy-efficient multifamily dwelling units and low-load single-family homes.

- New Ecology Inc. (Boston, MA): “Optimizing Hydronic Heating for Comfort and Performance.” The research team will develop and validate a new low-cost remote monitoring system to significantly improve energy performance of central heating systems in multifamily buildings. The innovative system obtains system and component performance data from on-board or supplemental data acquisition systems, then automates the boiler and distribution system to automate the optimization analyses and fault detection process to significantly lower energy and implementation costs.

- Southface (Atlanta, GA): “Optimizing Residential HVAC Performance Using Quality Installation Verification and Monitoring Tools.” The research team will conduct a field study to validate new advanced HVAC installation verification and monitoring tools in DOE climate zones 2 through 7. The team will collect and analyze real-world data on installed HVAC systems both during service visits and during operation, documenting the effects of system faults and combinations of faults, improving operational performance and reducing costs.

- University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK): “Development and validation of a home comfort system for total performance deficiency/fault detection and optimal control.” The research team will develop and validate a smart thermostat-integrated low-cost home energy management system, including a data connection framework; a computationally efficient, self-learning home thermal model; automatic fault detection and analysis algorithms; and home energy management information and controls based on in-situ measured efficiencies of heating and cooling equipment, the air distribution system, and the building envelope.

FIVE PROJECTS TO STUDY BUILDING INDUSTRY STANDARD PRACTICES

- University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL): “Transitioning to Market Driven Residential Energy Codes: Model Residential Building Energy Code Effectiveness in a Changing Technological Environment -- A New Paradigm.” The research team will identify and quantify the impact of procedural and technical best practices in the residential building space on the international model energy code process. The research team will evaluate energy and cost data on the differences between residential code compliance methods, inventory compliance issues, technology gaps, and potential energy and cost impacts associated with in each compliance method, and create specifications for electronic tools that meet the needs of jurisdictions wishing to improve the code permitting and compliance verification process.

- Home Innovation Research Labs Inc. (Upper Marlboro, MD): “Residential Energy Code Compliance Path Implementation and Implications Survey.” The research team will conduct nationwide studies to determine the prevalence and relative usage of various energy code compliance paths for new home construction. Additional data will be collected on a subset of these homes, including energy performance (utility bills), thermal comfort, and general satisfaction data. This data will be analyzed to evaluate the association between the chosen compliance path and resulting energy performance.

- Institute for Market Transformation (Washington, DC): “Utah and Arizona Energy Code Compliance Study.” The research team will conduct residential energy-efficiency field studies in the states of Utah and Arizona. The team will use established methodologies to identify target measures with the greatest impact on energy efficiency in new single-family homes, as well as the associated energy and cost savings potential. This information has significant value and can inform ongoing industry education, training and outreach programs within each state.

- National Association of State Energy Officials (Arlington, VA): “An Energy Codes Gap Analysis Field Study in the Southwest.” The research team will conduct residential energy-efficiency field studies in the states of Colorado and Nevada. The team will use established methodologies to identify target measures with the greatest impact on energy efficiency in new single-family homes, as well as the associated energy and cost savings potential. This information has significant value and can inform ongoing industry education, training and outreach programs within each state.

- South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (Austin, TX): “Construction Trends, Code Compliance, and Building Performance.” The research team will investigate the prevalence of various compliance paths, and the relationship between compliance path used and energy use intensity (EUI). This will be performed through a comparative analysis of prominent industry data sources used to demonstrate building energy efficiency.