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Unbiased Results

It is true in the building industry where changes are not readily adopted. The challenge in determining the energy savings of new or existing products is in choosing the process that will be widely accepted by the industry and can’t be disputed by competitors or government. FSEC has lived up to the challenge.

Our testing procedures for radiant barriers are one example. To determine the energy savings potential of placing aluminum foil in an attic, an attic space of an FSEC residential laboratory was divided into three equal spaces. Since no two rooms or attic spaces ever behave equally, FSEC used “null testing.” Each attic space was configured identically, thoroughly instrumented and data was collected for many weeks. Then radiant barrier systems were installed in two of the attic cells and data was collected under varying weather conditions. Because of the null test results, the impact of the radiant barrier system could be determined.

As a result of the publication of these results a million-dollar radiant barrier industry was born, the Florida energy code adopted a credit for radiant barriers, and FSEC’s deputy director Philip Fairey was asked to serve as chairman of the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) and ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) groups that developed standards for the material. Unbiased results can change an industry.

Results from the Real World

It works in theory. It’s been tested in the laboratory. But how does it work in occupied buildings? Do people’s behavior impact the energy use? Is installation done correctly? Are there problems that are unknown? To answer these questions, FSEC staff have instrumented and monitored occupied buildings. Some of the most interesting results have come from FSEC staff’s quest to answer their own curiosity.

“Duct work should be completely sealed,” say building codes. But are they? FSEC’s Jim Cummings decided to find out. Armed with an extensive knowledge of buildings and the best diagnostic tools available, he investigated duct performance in 48 central Florida homes. Cummings found every house had some leakage. By using electric meters attached to the air conditioning equipment, Cummings was able to collect energy data for entire summers, while performing duct system repairs at mid-summer. The tests showed that an average of 17.2% of air conditioning energy use was reduced by repairing leaks. Recognizing the potential energy use associated with leaks raised Cummings’ curiosity. He began testing with bedroom doors closed. He was able to demonstrate, and then repeat in other homes, that closing interior doors when the air conditioning system was running could increase infiltration by 50-200% Cumming's research has become the basis of training and demand-side-management utility programs in Florida.

Finding Problems that Can’t Be Seen

The difficulty in building science is that many of the problems cannot be seen once the building is completed. Was the insulation installed correctly? Are the partition walls sealed at the top? Do the ducts leak? Fortunately, FSEC has the trained staff and proper tools to find and solve many of these hidden problems. The solutions can reveal improved quality and customer satisfaction.

An industrialized home manufacturer invited FSEC to help them improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Using infrared scanners and blower doors, trained FSEC staff were able to find problems in completed homes that were invisible to the naked eye. FSEC was able to improve the quality of construction.

In central Florida, the same diagnostic techniques are used in older homes to find out why they aren't being cooled when the air conditioner is on or why a wall feels hot to the touch.

In commercial buildings, similar techniques are being used to determine the source of mold, mildew and comfort problems.

Making Designers’ Dreams Work Well

Disney Development Corporation hired world-renowned architect Arata Isozaki to design Team Disney’s new office building for Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. Isozaki and Disney turned to FSEC to make the architect’s idea of a sundial courtyard work. The task was difficult because Isozaki’s 120 foot high cone shaped sundial is tilted slightly and narrows at the top. FSEC’s Dr. Ross McCluney, a physicist specializing in sunlight and optics, developed the new algorithms to determine the precise locations for markings on the space cone before the walls existed. The task required hours of computer programs and painstaking adjustments with the contractor as the cone was striped with blue tiles and punctuated at intervals with red dots. Any mistakes would be extremely costly to correct. Photographic records have shown the sundial to be accurate for the entire year, helping make Isozaki’s dream work.

Developing Confident Personnel

Research results are fine, but transferring those results to actual construction practices isn't a simple task. Building professionals want to be confident in their decisions and application. That’s why FSEC training has been so well received. Our duct-repair training course is one example. The contractors and utility representatives taking the course have to roll up their sleeves, dip their hands in mastic, and make repairs on ductwork. After receiving classroom and diagnostic equipment training, they enter a home and attempt to determine the potential problems. In the process, each student develops knowledge of the entire house, including safety-related issues, and leaves with the practical know-how to deal with a variety of situations.