Recent History

Historical Perspective:  U.S. Building Science Education for the Housing Sector

The history of building science goes back a few millenniums to the time of the Greeks and their passive designs to reduce solar heat gain.  A building scientist in Rome was confronted with moisture damage to scrolls due to excess humidity.  He designed a passive ventilation system to reduce the humidity in a library to a point where the documents were protected.  This research was published (Vetruvius’ Ten Books of Architecture), but effectively lost until modern times.

Following WW II, research on building envelopes and moisture was conducted at the National Bureau of Standards (Now NIST).    However, the great push in modern times was the October 1973 oil embargo.  Growing recognition of our energy vulnerability preceded the Embargo. Congressional interest in solar energy and conservation grew in the early 1970’s along with funding of research at NSF, NASA and other agencies.    Following the embargo, energy became a major national priority,  resulting in the establishment in December 1973 of the Federal Energy Office in the Executive Office of the President, and subsequently, establishment of its successor organizations: FEA, ERDA and DOE, and in Paris, the founding of the International Energy Agency.

Europe seemed to lead in the moisture research, with great progress being made in Canada.   Belgium led an early IEA Annex on moisture in building envelopes.  The research organizations and universities in Canada made significant progress addressing heat and mass transfer in buildings, particularly as it affected both above and below grade envelopes.  Progress in the United States was supported by the Department of Energy but benefitted by North American collaboration through IEA annexes, ASHRAE, ASTM and ISO committees and participation of Canadians on DOE research projects, as well as the Forest Products Laboratory and DOD-Army Corp of Engineers (CREL and CERL).

Regarding the teaching of building science, greater progress occurred in Ontario and European Universities (Bauphysik), though within the US, there were a few universities making progress in building science, such as the Universities of Illinois, Minnesota, Massachusetts at Amherst, Central Florida, Berkeley, and others.

A key mover in the US and, in fact worldwide, was the BETEC/ASHRAE/DOE Conferences inaugurated in 1979 and held every three years in Clearwater, Florida – sponsored by DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).  The papers submitted provide a history of progress in building envelope research; particularly as it affected heat and moisture transport.   This research was translated into progress in building science education in Europe, Canada and even the Soviet bloc countries (and their Building Physics Research Institutes), as well as in a few US universities.

In the mid to late 1980’s, foundations and moisture research projects were initiated through ORNL.  These lead to the Foundations and Moisture Control Handbooks.  In the early 1990’s, the University of Minnesota began work on a series of handbooks, websites, and other elements of an integrated knowledge-base for window technologies.  Contracts from DOE also included model courses for teaching this material.

In 2003, in an effort to expand the DOE Building America program – without adding significant costs – university extension services and universities were reviewed as possible regional extensions of the Building America program.   A model that was considered was the successful Industrial program’s “Industrial Assessment Centers” in 26 universities.  There, teams of faculty and students would assist small manufacturing companies in improving their energy efficiency, as well as productivity and waste management.   The result was a report that could be taken to the bank and provide a short payback for efficiency and other improvements.  It also provided the students with very marketable skills.

The review of the potential of extension services first resulted in a composite characterization of the Building America process – from pre-construction to post-occupancy phases.   It identified the common elements among the research teams that resulted in the most progress with the builder teams.  The research teams also noted the need for extensive education of design and construction professionals they confronted in everything from team building, advanced detailing, effective scopes of work, heat and moisture control in envelopes, indoor air quality, optimizing whole building performance as an integrated system, and quality management, among many other needed skills.   It became apparent that the universities had not prepared these design and construction professionals with the knowledge, skills and abilities to design and build quality, high performance homes.

At the same time, Building Science Corporation, BSC, (a Building America research team) was developing a Risk Assessment Profile which addressed the durability quality management and other technical requirements to assure a sustainable expansion of the Building America process.  This work was reflected in the Masco program, and together with work supported by DOE, was also reflected in the residential LEED program, including its integrated design and project management process.  The result of the DOE Building America and its research teams was the initiation of a number of projects to build the knowledge base and to begin the transfer of this knowledge to the industry and universities.  Packaging this knowledge was facilitated by BSC, EEBA, ACI and others.

In 2004, the DOE Asst. Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy brought into his office a former Dean of Clemson University who was an expert in energy extension services.  The result was collaboration with NASULGC (now APLU, the Association of Public Land Grant Universities) to develop a “building science 101” course to begin the long task of upgrading building science in US universities.  The Building America/NASULGC project received significant DOE funding with “Summer Workshops” hosted by the University of Kentucky over a three year period (2004-2007).  It produced a Building Science 101 outline with 14 modules.  This project was supported by Building America.  Funding issues lead to project closure.

In 2005, John Straube and Eric Burnett published an advanced text for the building professions: “Building Science for Building Enclosures”.

In 2009-10, the DOE-EE Asst. Secretary’s office sought to increase the educational impact of the Solar Decathlon.  One result was the Building America Building Science Education project and the January 2011 “Excellence in Building Science Education Workshop”, and the launching of the Building America Building Science Education website.  The workshop was a joint endeavor with the National Consortium of Housing Research Centers, the Associated Schools of Construction, HUD, and many Building America teams, as well as the Solar Decathlon teams.  The focus of that effort was to establish the mechanisms to share “excellent” curriculum and content for building science education.  The recommendations of the workshop and forum were to establish an institutional presence in Building America and the also within the university organizations to facilitate sharing of curriculum and content.  Also, an awards program was established for “excellence in building science education”.

The University Consortium and the Associated Schools of Construction worked to improve their collaboration, including establishing a “joint committee on building science education”.  Because of administrative delays in supporting the establishment of a Building Science Education Committee under Building America, and updating the website based on forum recommendations, progress was slow.

Recently, the Building America Building Science Education project received significant DOE and university support:

  • Under the University Consortium, a task group was formed following the February 2012 annual meeting at the IBS on Criteria for Excellence in Building Science Education Curricula, under its Joint Committee on Building Science Education.
  • Adjunct to the annual meeting at IBS, the first Excellence in Building Science Education Annual Award (and lifetime achievement award) were presented.  Subsequently, in the summer of 2012, a selection was made for the second annual award.
  • A meeting on building science education was held in July of 2012 in Denver, and the Building America Building Science Education committee was established.
  • Following meetings in Boston, in July 2012, plans proceeded for a summit meeting to develop a roadmap for both the education activities and a competition in the universities to stimulate interest in building science.
  • On November 7-8, 2012, DOE sponsored a Building Science Education Summit which resulted in a Building Science Education Roadmap and a “DOE Challenge Home Student Competition” plan.