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Most people don’t think of building science when they build a new home. They start out thinking more about the floor plans and what the outside of the home will look like. Next, they start thinking about the kitchen layout and the features they want in their master bedroom. How their home is built and why it is built that way isn’t something that the majority of homebuyers are thinking about… but they should. Building Science impacts energy efficiency, durability, comfort, and indoor air quality. This means building science plays a direct role in your health, your safety, your comfort, and your financial ability to maintain your home.
What is Building Science?
According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, building science is “a field of knowledge that draws upon physics, chemistry, engineering, architecture, and the life sciences. Understanding the physical behavior of the building as a system and how this impacts energy efficiency, durability, comfort and indoor air quality is essential to innovating high-performance buildings.” While most students of building science focus on the commercial side of the building, building science have made huge contributions to how you live in your home in recent years.
In the U.S. innovation in how you live is being driven by the suppliers to the home building industry. An example familiar to many is the Nest thermostat. This is a thermostat that programs itself. It learns how you live to lower energy costs when you aren’t home. There is an app that allows you to control it remotely. That is what you see. The real building science is located in the walls with the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system that it is controlling. Comfort is more than just setting a temperature. How does the air get delivered? Are there drafts? Are there hot and cold spots in my home? Is the air in my home safer to breathe than the air outside my home? Is my HVAC system managing my comfort at the absolute lowest cost possible? The answers to these questions are what should really matter. These are the questions building science responds to.
Systems and Building Science
Building science takes a systems approach to defining and improving the home we will live in. There are five primary areas that must work together to improve our experience in our home:
The Building Enclosure – The building enclosure or building envelope is the physical separator between the interior and exterior of a building. This enclosure has many openings such as doors, windows, vent pipes, etc. Building science seeks to systematically insure that air and moisture is blocked, eliminated, or managed in the construction of a home. This leads to better air quality, elimination of rot, and lower energy bills.
Occupants/Inhabitants – Building Science seeks to improve the livability of a home. Not only for the humans inhabiting it but also for the pets that live there and the plants that can improve the quality of the home. This impacts lighting, windows, accessibility, and overall home design.
Building Services – This includes items such as electrical and mechanical systems. As in the example earlier, HVAC is one of the most important systems in a home. Not only for the comfort and health of the occupants of the home, but HVAC is the biggest offender in most homes for driving up operating costs because of incorrect installation or poor design. Lighting also plays a major role in the livability of a home. While basic lighting works, thoughtfully designing a home’s lighting package can significantly alter the feel of a home and the cost of living in the home.
Site – This covers items such landscaping and the service infrastructure. Slopes, water management (drainage), and views play an important role in positioning a home on site. However, the location of the sun should play the largest role in deciding where to place your home on a building site. In fact, this last point is so important, it should be thought about at the time of purchasing a building site – well before you even start to build your new home.
External Environment – This means designing and building a home for the region and climate that it will be in. For example, you don’t put a wood shake roof on a home prone to wildfires or a clay roof on a home prone to freezing. A home needs to be designed for and use materials appropriate to the location where it will be built.
Making Building Science Sexy
Maybe it’s a stretch to say building science is sexy. However, building science that is coupled with technology can create great ways to monitor the systems of your home. From voice activated systems such as Alexa to apps on your phone, you can now manage everything from your homes HVAC system, security system, and lighting. You can even check the contents of your refrigerator.
For example, ComfortGuard is an app that allows you to not only manage the environment of your home, it tells you how your HVAC system is performing. It also monitors it to prevent breakdowns and manage maintenance. All of this from your phone.
AirVisual Pro is another app, but it monitors air quality. With parents growing concern for their children with respiratory issues, apps exist that with the help of sensors, can monitor the indoor air quality of your home remotely.
Modular is the Vehicle to Deliver on Building Science
Building science views the home as a system. The systems are made up of many subsystems that dictate the livability of your home. Modular construction is a building system itself. It is a method of building indoors that assembles these subsystems in a controlled environment. A home is broken down into subsystems or components. These components are then assembled into a larger component called a module. Because a modular home is built indoors, subsystems can be thoughtfully designed and skillfully assembled.
Just like building science is getting better every year, so is modular construction. Factories are able to do more and more indoors the factory thereby reducing defects and improving overall livability of the home. A system only performs when it is installed correctly. Modular offers the method to deliver on building science.
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