UNL to make homes more energy efficient

jbrehm2, July 8, 2010 | View original publication

UNL to make homes more energy efficient

University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineers and architects are partnering with University of Florida researchers, home builders and remodelers, and other businesses on research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop and improve technologies for making American homes more energy efficient.

UNL will lead one of 15 research and deployment teams that DOE selected for its Building America program to pursue innovations that save energy and enhance comfort in new and existing U.S. homes. The UNL-led project is titled Building Energy Efficient Homes for America. The team "possesses impressive simulation and computing facilities, as well as building systems research laboratories," DOE said in a news release announcing selection of the teams.

Jonathan Shi, professor in the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction in UNL's College of Engineering, heads the team, which includes faculty from UNL's College of Engineering and College of Architecture as well as the University of Florida. Private sector partners include Nebraska-based builders HearthStone Homes, Rezac Construction and Excite Builders, the Home Builders Association of Lincoln, Lincoln Remodelers Council, Omaha's Holy Name Housing Corp., Lincoln's Kinder Porter Scott Family Foundation, the cities of Lincoln and Omaha, and utilities including Omaha Public Power District and Black Hills Energy. Other partners include Johnson Controls Inc., Florida-based builders Barry Rutenberg and Associates, G.W. Robinson Homes and Tommy Williams, and Timothy Eller and Stephen O. Nellis, both based in Dallas. Eller, a UNL construction management graduate and principal in Cordalla Capital LLC, chairs the project's industry advisory board.

Shi said the team is eligible to receive up to $2.5 million per year in DOE funding over the next 4.5 years for work to identify, test and validate energy efficiency measures in new and existing homes. Specific studies will explore how to improve an existing home's insulation, install renewable energy systems at a lower cost, create a sustainable retrofit market and improve space heating and cooling efficiency. Researchers also will identify the most cost-effective strategies to improve a given home's energy efficiency. The broad-based partnership will ensure research results can be successfully deployed in American homes.

Shi said he agreed with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu that improving the energy efficiency of buildings, which account for 40 percent of U.S. energy use, is "low hanging fruit."

Approximately 1 million new homes are built each year in the United States, Shi said, but around 85 percent of American homes were built before 2000, so the federal government "is extremely interested in creating a sustainable retrofitting market."

Shi said DOE's goal is to retrofit about 6 million homes each year and achieve energy savings of 20 percent over the next five years, and 50 percent by 2025, which would reduce energy consumption and save homeowners money.

"Making our homes more efficient has enormous potential for reducing our nation's energy consumption," said UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman. "Being selected as a research team for DOE's Building America program is recognition of UNL's green building expertise and capabilities."

"This is the kind of innovative research that grows from robust collaborations among our faculty and industry partners," said Prem S. Paul, vice chancellor for research and economic development. "The results will benefit people nationwide."

James O'Hanlon, interim dean of UNL's College of Engineering, said, "Nebraska Engineering's Durham School is proud to be a leader in construction research and technologies that help Americans access greater energy efficiency and more comfortable homes."