Building America Research for the American Home

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Building America program is helping to engineer American homes for better energy performance, durability, quality, affordability, and comfort.

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Watch the video to learn more about how DOE's Building America program is helping to bridge the gap between homes with high energy costs and homes that are healthy, durable, and energy efficient. View the text version of the audio.

Building America is a cost-shared industry partnership research program working with national laboratories and building science research teams to accelerate the development and adoption of advanced building energy technologies and practices in new and existing homes.

The program works closely with industry partners to develop innovative, real-world solutions that achieve significant energy and cost savings for homeowners, builders, and contractors. Research is conducted on individual measures and systems, test houses, and community-scale housing in order to validate the reliability, cost-effectiveness, and marketability of technologies in new construction and home improvement projects. Find expert building science information based on Building America research in the Solution Center.

 

Program Goals

What are the next steps in achieving 50% energy savings in U.S. residential buildings? To get a full briefing, read the recently published report, Challenges and Opportunities to Achieve 50% Energy Savings in Homes: National Laboratory White Papers.

The goal of Building America is to demonstrate how cost-effective strategies can reduce home energy use by up to 50%, for both new and existing homes, in all climate regions by 2017.

For new and existing homes, energy savings are determined using the Building America House Simulation Protocols. For new construction, this represents a typical home built according to 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) with updated appliances, lighting, and miscellaneous electric loads.

Along with energy savings, the program also focuses on solutions that lead to:

  • Risk identification and mitigation
  • Improved indoor air quality, which can benefit occupant health
  • Higher comfort levels in all rooms throughout the home
  • Durable and moisture-resistant building designs and renovation
  • Increased builder profitability through reduced construction time
  • Opportunities for new product designs that save energy, material, and installation costs.

Through targeted research, industry partnerships, and collaboration with related DOE residential initiatives, Building America works to make cost-effective, energy efficient homes a reality for all Americans.

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Research-to-Market Approach

DOE uses a strategic planning process in order to set research goals, engage industry stakeholders, and decide which projects to fund. Building America teams complete select projects designed to evaluate the performance and achieve market acceptance of energy efficiency measures through a three-step approach:

  1. Individual measures research
  2. Whole-house assessments
  3. Community-scale implementation and verification

This image shows a large horizontal oval labeled "Strategic Plan."Within the oval are five smaller ovals: directly beneath the words "Strategic Plan" are three ovals stacked one on top of the other. The first one reads "1. Measure Research; second one right below that reads "2. Whole-House Assessment; third one below that reads "3. Community Scale Verification." To  the left of the #2 oval is a double arrow pointing to and from another oval that reads "Cost and Performance Tradeoffs."Also, there are arrows to and from this oval from both the #1 and #3 ovals. Similarly, on the right side of the three stacked ovals is another oval that reads "Stakeholder Engagement' with double arrows to and from the #1, #2, and #3 ovals in the center.

Strategic Planning

DOE sets goals, engages in roadmapping exercises, and follows a strategic planning process to chart the course for the Building America program. DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) select research projects together, and NREL manages the selected research projects. Learn more about the strategic planning process.

Measures Research

One of the most important and fundamental concepts of building science is the emphasis on system interaction; however, before Building America researchers can approach this complex problem, each individual energy efficiency component or measure must be studied separately. Common research questions for this step can include:

  • What is the performance of this technology under different conditions that represent climate extremes?
  • What are the most effective ways to ensure proper moisture management related to this technology?
  • Which control strategy is best for each situation: single family, attached housing, or multifamily?

Research on individual measures can be conducted in either a lab facility or a test home depending on the maturity of the technology and the specifics of the investigation. This research is documented as innovations, and guidance for installation is provided in measure guidelines reports in the Building America publications library.

Whole-House Assessments

If a technology passes Building America's measures research, including robust tests in health, safety, durability, and cost-effective energy savings, it will progress to whole-house assessments. After a design is optimized using the BEopt research tool, whole-house research is conducted using occupied or unoccupied homes to test the interactions of packages of measures.

This step in the research process focuses heavily on system interaction. For example, changing the air-tightness of a home can affect the space conditioning system's efficiency. Common research questions for this step can include:

  • How has the performance for each system changed now that they are working with or against each other?
  • Are there any moisture issues now that the house is 30%-50% more energy efficient?

Throughout the design and construction phases, the team examines the interaction between the building site, envelope, mechanical systems, and energy-use factors to identify additional savings. Any money saved provides an opportunity to invest in improved energy performance and product quality.

Community-Scale Verification

Once the design of a test home has been optimized in terms of quality, energy use, and cost effectiveness, it is ready for production-level or community-scale verification. When working in a large scale, installation techniques become the driver for success. Quality levels are no longer determined by the researchers, but by the watchful eye of the trades people actually installing the product in the field. This step tests a group of measures for feasibility of installation and market acceptance. Results from this phase include robust climate-specific guidance and case studies.

Research questions at this step include:

  • How do the trades react to this new technology package?
  • What are the additional cost benefits of the package when processed at a larger scale?
  • What are the large scale risks associated with the technology?

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Stakeholder Engagement

During each of these steps, Building America invites feedback from industry stakeholders to ensure the research results are marketable. Stakeholders include:

  • Building industry professionals such as engineers, contractors, architects, energy auditors, installers, raters, and code inspectors
  • Equipment manufacturers and suppliers
  • Homeowners
  • Utilities
  • Financial institutions
  • Federal, state, and local governments
  • Industry and technical organizations
  • Researchers and students
  • Realtors
  • Affordable housing advocates.

Each stakeholder plays an important role in the ultimate goal of incorporating high levels of energy efficiency into homes across the United States.

Building America hosts meetings several times each year with industry stakeholders to provide a forum for research and communication related to various aspects of residential building research. Find out about other ways to get involved on the Market Partnerships page.

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