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Sustainable Building Laboratory

Building Enclosure Research Group 

In the United States buildings consume about 40% of the energy that is used in the country.  Nearly one-half of this energy is used by building comfort systems (i.e., space heating and cooling systems), which in a significant part function based on how much heat, air, and water vapor is transferred through the building’s external walls (i.e., enclosure).   The M2SEC Building was constructed in such a way that it is an experiment in itself.  Its walls constitute a new research concept known as “plug-and-play walls (PPWs).” The PPW enables, among other possibilities, the experimental characterization of the thermal, hygroscopic (i.e., water attraction and retention), and air transfer properties of building materials in several kinds of wall constructions at the same time under the same weather and indoor conditions.  For this, its south and west facing walls are subdivided into 60 interchangeable wall panels, each of which can be assembled in any type of building wall and/or dismantled with relative ease. For example, several types of building walls (i.e., steel frame, wood frame, concrete, brick, composite, etc.) can be tested together at the same time or independently during any season of the year.  The PPW concept makes the M2SEC one of only a handful of buildings worldwide with the same capabilities.  In addition to materials characterization, the PPW is being used to test the new generation of building materials, insulation systems, and building wall technologies in general.  The focus of the research is to develop energy efficient walls, with reduced rates of heat and mass transfer, for energy conservation and management, as well as reduced building carbon footprint and to utilize renewable and passive technologies within the building enclosure.  Current research includes the characterization of building walls outfitted with phase change materials and nano-aerogels.  Both of these are technologies that help in reducing heat transfer across building walls.

Additional capabilities found in the Sustainable Building Laboratory include two fully-instrumented conference rooms for control studies of energy consumption as well as wall heat and mass transfer studies. A separate space, facing east, is used for fenestration studies (i.e., windows). This space is equipped with removable glass frames in which fenestration properties, such as solar and infrared transmissivity, absorptivity, and reflectivity can be studied. In addition, windows outfitted with phase change materials, nano-aerogels, and other emerging technologies can be investigated.

The experimental data are used to validate transient heat and mass transfer models, which are developed in-house, as well as to calibrate commercially-available building energy simulation software.

Equipment used in these spaces includes heat flux meters, thermocouples, infrared thermometers, relative humidity transducers, anemometers, a differential scanning calorimeter, hard-wired and wireless data loggers, and computers.

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