May 31 2008

Building America: Developing Energy Efficient Homes in the US

Building America Logo_Image 01

Building America is a private/public partnership, organized by the US Department of Energy, designed to develop and promote energy solutions for new and existing homes "that can be implemented on a production basis." Stated goals of the project include:

  • Producing homes on a community scale that use on average 30% to 90% less energy
  • Integrate onsite power systems leading to "zero-energy" (ZEH) homes that will ultimately produce as much energy as they use by 2020
  • Help home builders reduce construction time and waste
  • Improve builder productivity
  • Provide new product opportunities to manufacturers and suppliers
  • Implement innovative energy and material-saving technologies

What makes the Building America program unique in my mind is that it is based on the idea of whole systems engineering. The concept is that building systems are holistically designed to operate efficiently with one another. Benefits achieved from one system is studied throughout the building and potential efficiencies within other systems are sought. In the design and production of whole system engineered homes, the projects "unite segments of the building industry that traditionally work independently." Architects, engineers, builders, equipment manufacturers, material suppliers, community planners, mortgage lenders, and contractor trades all work together to achieve the best and most efficient home. Advocating the system engineering approach is commendable on the part of a US DOE project as it takes foresight and is outside of mainstream building practices. I commend the DOE for their activism. To start construction of these homes they are Hiring construction jobs.

The Building America website describes their research and production process as follows:

Chart_Image 03

Building America teams work to produce houses that incorporate energy- and material-saving strategies from the very start of the building process?the design. Initial cost-effective strategies are analyzed and selected during the pre-design phase. The team then evaluates its design, business, and construction practices to identify cost savings. Cost savings can then be reinvested to improve energy performance and product quality. For example, the design might incorporate new techniques for tightening the building envelope that enable builders to install smaller, less expensive heating and cooling systems. These savings can then be reinvested in high-performance windows that further reduce energy use and costs.

After the design has been evaluated, the team builds a prototype or "test" house. When completed, the prototype's systems are tested for efficiency and the team makes any necessary changes to the design to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness. The design is then re-tested before it is used to build additional houses. The design must be tested and re-tested for ultimate performance before it is ready for use in production or community-scale housing.

Areas of specific research include: Advanced Framing Systems, Tightly Sealed House Envelopes, Shorter, Less Costly Ductwork, Disentangling the Infrastructure, Smaller and Less Expensive Mechanical Systems, and Modular Construction.

A handy map on their website helps locate projects near you. And for those of you from the Baltimore area, Clipper Mill has two units that were produced through this project.

Clipper Mill House_Image 02

For more information please visit the Building America website. Interestingly the program shares concepts with the Passive House building standard and just goes to show that good design is universal!

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June 1st, 2009 at 10:14 AM

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July 22nd, 2009 at 4:02 PM


Super information above, I am looking for a company to build my Passive house, can you recommend one? this company is the most attractive at the moment to me.... Phil

September 30th, 2009 at 2:11 AM


Phil, Where are you located?

October 20th, 2009 at 9:40 PM


Baltimore MD