UTSA architecture researcher to evaluate energy efficiency of historic homes

William Dupont

William Dupont, FAIA

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(Aug. 18, 2014) -- A team of UTSA researchers has been awarded a nearly $40,000 grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), an office of the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Department of the Interior. The grant will fund a one-year study of the energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of radiant barrier retrofits of historic homes in hot, humid climates.

Radiant barriers are reflective thermal insulations commonly fitted into roofs or attics that reflect heat back, thereby reducing the amount of heat emitted in the direction of the homes. The researchers will study these retrofits in 10 case study homes. These homes will be of similar wood-frame construction, detached one-story structures of approximately 1,750 square feet built between 1900 and 1945 and located within an historic district.

This study will be one of the first academy investigations funded by a government organization to focus solely on energy efficiency retrofits in hot, humid climates, noted Principal Investigator William A. Dupont, FAIA.

"The existing research on energy-efficiency retrofits has mostly focused on northern climate zones, leaving a dearth of information applicable to historic homes in southern climate zones," said Dupont. "Better energy efficiency of older homes is necessary and achievable, but homeowners and contractors lack real data on the most cost-effective techniques, especially in hot and humid climates."

According to a 2011 U.S. Energy Information Administration report, buildings account for 41 percent of total U.S. energy consumption, and residential buildings account for 55 percent of that total. A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that more than 41 million residential housing buildings were built before 1960. That means they are more than 50 years old and may hold historical significance.

"In San Antonio alone, the City's Office of Historic Preservation is currently estimating that there are 61,000 historic residential units within a 36-mile area," said Dupont. "That's roughly consistent with the national average. The problem is that these homeowners still do not have clear, accurate financial estimates on the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency options. That means that most are either just wasting energy or spending money unnecessarily."

Through the use of energy-efficiency monitoring devices, researchers will be able to evaluate homeowners' energy expenditures throughout the year in comparison to similar homes not fitted with radiant barriers. The monitors also will isolate the energy efficiency impact of the radiant barrier versus other environmental factors such as lighting fixtures and the homeowners' existing behaviors.

At the end of the year, the researchers will have the data to evaluate the radiant barriers' effectiveness. The researchers will produce a detailed pamphlet aimed at educating the general public about energy efficiency retrofits.

Dupont is the San Antonio Conservation Society Endowed Professor of Architecture and director of the Center for Cultural Sustainability in the UTSA College of Architecture. His team includes UTSA researchers Hazem Rashed-Ali, associate professor of architecture; Suat Gunhan, assistant professor of construction science; and Randy Manteufel, P.E., associate professor of mechanical engineering in the UTSA College of Engineering. The team also will include UTSA historical preservation and architecture graduate students.

The UTSA Center for Cultural Sustainability in the UTSA College of Architecture provides academic research and services to benefit communities, completes large-scale research projects and educational opportunities for graduate students, and convenes leaders in the field for dialogue on global practices concerning sustainable development and construction.

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For more information, visit the UTSA Center for Cultural Sustainability or the UTSA College of Architecture websites.

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