The BuildSci Blog

Micro publishings of building science research findings.

Dr. Srebric Presents at the National Academy of Sciences

Jelena Srebric presented on “Building Ventilation, Occupants, and Microbiome” at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) per invitation by the NAS Committee on Microbiomes of the Built Environment. As the committee focused on accelerating existing and new knowledge into application, Srebric suggested to consider influencing factors, such as dynamic ventilation rates and modes, to enable development of effective applications. For more details you could check her recorded talk.

Ebhojiaye Presents at BIRD-IP

Itohan Ebhojiaye presented at The Building-Grid Integration Research and Development Innovators Program (BIRD-IP) meeting focused on building energy management. One of the goals of the program is to encourage students to use VOLTTRON, a software platform developed by PNNL, to allow engineers and building managers to create customizable agents that can improve and ease the operation of buildings. At UMD, Itohan will be working on integrating VOLTTRON with the current Building Automation Systems to assess potential savings in cooling campus buildings.

Green Roofs and Their Potential to Transform Built Environments through the Food-Energy-Water Nexus

Dr. Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, Professor and CICS Executive Director at the University of Maryland, organized an international workshop at the World Bank in DC, sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), from October 27-28, 2015. The workshop had close to 150 participants from academia, industry, government and non-profits from around the world. Dr. Srebric spoke about the potential of green roofs to address all of the elements of FEW nexus, including food, energy and water. The workshop will result into an NSF report to shape future solicitations in this area of research.

Abstract of Talk:

Green roofs represent an example of a system that can truly operate at the food-energy-water nexus. The vast majority of existing studies explore capabilities of green roofs to affect energy and water systems in the built environments. Successful case studies on food production at green roofs exist, but their effectiveness should be evaluated not only from the perspective of crop yields, but also influence on the entire life cycle costs of such a system.

There are opportunities to reduce the heat fluxes and local environmental temperatures that can positively affect the effectiveness of cooling equipment located on the same roofs. Furthermore, there are opportunities to produce food in soils that have reduced contamination sources compared to the ground-level soils. Nevertheless, the increased soil depth represents a concern due to the added loads onto the roof with an added water and snow storage capacity, not just increased soil depth. These tradeoffs represent opportunities to optimize this roofing system to reduce its costs, while increasing local environmental benefits. Overall, if this system is only to be examined from the perspective of food production in isolation, it cannot compete with other methods of food production, so its capability to simultaneously affect food, energy and water systems need to be explored and quantified.

Building Science Group Submits Proposal for Environmental Chamber

As part of its development of the Cluster for Sustainability in the Built Environment (CITY@UMD) in The University of Maryland's Mechanical Engineering Department, the Building Science Group has launched a Request for Proposal to "Furnish and Install Environmental and Climate Chambers For the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland".

Important Information:

  • Documents:
    RFP and supporting documents can be retrieved from the following website: Under Solicitation No. MDUMPC31023286
  • Pre-Proposal Conference:
    Friday, October 23, 2015, 10:00 AM, local time. Conference to be held at University of Maryland, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Technology Ventures Building (#806), 5000 College Avenue, Room 1200, College Park, Maryland 20742.
  • Questions Due:
    Friday, October 30, 2015, 3:00 PM,local time. Questions must be submitted in writing and may be submitted via facsimile to 301-314-3011, or via email to
  • Proposal Date:
    Monday, November 9, 2015, 3:00 PM local time, University of Maryland, Construction and Facilities Procurement, 0410 Services Building, College Park, MD.

Winning Hackathon Projects

Building Science Group members Nick Mattise and Matthew Dahlhausen travelled to New York City this weekend for the AEC Hackathon 2015 hosted by Thornton Tomasetti.
BSG members participated in last year’s hackathon too, winning first place with Pollination, a concept for quickly running energy simulations for parametric architectural models in the cloud, and second place with Va3c, a web viewer for architectural models. Va3c has become the widely used and fully supported software app Spectacles. Nick and Matt were excited to build on last year’s success.


Won Best collaboration / open-source project Matt worked on the Hydra team. Hydra is a web platform for sharing example files from Grasshopper and Dynamo. It’s got a grasshopper-plugin that makes it really easy to upload your grasshopper and associated rhino files to the web to share with others. It handles versioning too, so you can track how examples have improved over time.


Won best overall hack. Nick worked on the DocQr team with former BSG member Josh Wentz. DOCQR is a service that allows for architects, engineers, construction managers, constractors and facility managres to visualize building construction docs and sheets online by scanning a QR Code. DOCQR is opensourced on github, and has further informaiton about its inspiration and development on Devpost.

Virtual PULSE IBPSA Feedback

The Building Science Group presented Virtual PULSE, a newly developed urban scale modeling platform, at the International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA) National Capital Chapter (NCC) meeting. The Virtual PULSE development team appreciates attendees for their valuable feedback. What we learned:

  • The tool can be useful for early stage conceptual design of buildings where there is a need to assess impacts of building shape and location. Virtual PULSE empowers architects, engineers, urban planners who do not plan to create detailed models in the early stage design of buildings to quickly assess different scenarios. These groups could push the tool usage forward more than other building stakeholders.
  • The quick geometry and templating is useful for existing energy auditing approaches that use simple building energy models to supplement on-site data collection efforts. The models, supplemented with on-site data and judicious use of templates or benchmarking data, can give a rough consumption breakout to suggest energy efficiency measures with needing expensive sub-metering, extensive investigation, or complete building data.
  • Mechanical designers are considering non-forced air systems, e.g. chilled beans, which requires more HVAC system options. If the tool is to extend to the later stages of HVAC design, it needs to have specific thermal zoning rather than simply core/perimeter zoning.
  • The quickness of model construction makes it attractive as a way for campus facility managers or government agencies to benchmark and investigate their building portfolio. At the city scale, different ownership makes this less useful.
  • Currently the tool generates OpenStudio models, but doesn’t allow a user to upload a modified model after changes. This interoperability needs to be present to make VirtualPulse useful in tracking building performance and investigating energy efficiency opportunities.

Building Science Group Members attend National Chapter Meeting of IBPSA to demo VIrtual PULSE and talk about onging research projects.

City@UMD Joins New Cutting Edge Project

We are excited to be a part of the UMD-led team to develop a new generation of personalized cooling and heating devices. The interesting part of this project is the merging of robotics with air conditioning components of the system. This project is sponsored by ARPA-E under their Delta program. More information will be available on the site as the project develops.

Award Winning Visualization

Members from the Building Science Group got together over a summer weekend to create Quesadilla, an interactive visualization of energy flows in the United States for DOE’s Energy Data Challenge Contest #3: Open Data by Design. Quesadilla won the prize for Best Visualization.

Quesadilla incorporates historic data from 1949, projected data to 2040, and includes energy flows from energy extraction method through to sector end-use, where available. This gives users an understanding of how energy is used in the U.S., and how this changes over time. It is intended as an improvement over the frequently used static LLNL Estimated Energy Use Flowcharts, which do not show trends or end-uses. The data for the project is freely available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Full sources are listed in the 'Quesadilla Data.xlsx' spreadsheet on our Github Page. We did our best to smooth trends where data are not directly comparable, and appreciate any input on ways to better explain to users where such smoothing is necessary. All code is under the MIT license, so anyone is free to share, modify, or use without restriction.

Why do we call it Quesadilla? It's a cheesy name... Nick was eating a quesadilla when we were thinking of names for the project.

Virtual PULSE 2015 Release 1.0

As part of the EFRI PULSE project, the Virtual PULSE urban simulation platform has launched its initial version for 2015. Virtual PULSE, which stands for Population in Urban Landscape for Sustainable Built Environments, is a web application that allows for the simulation of building energy, urban airflows, and solar radiation.

Built from the ground up with science and an air of simplicity; Virtual PULSE’s first release focuses upon the creating of building geometries, the assigning of building meta-data, and the initial energy modeling.

Seeing UMD in a New Light

Typically, when people think of campus building energy use, they think of lighting. Lights are very visible, are often left on when no one is using the space, and are a sizeable portion of commercial building energy use.

There is also a lot of energy in the light we don’t see – long-wave radiation in the infrared, which we perceive heat. We wanted to see that energy use as well, so last week, members of BSG and the Student Sustainability Committee traveled around campus at night to see the campus through an IR camera.

Building Classification of LEED Certified U.S. Office Buildings

Building Science Group members Mohammad Heidarinejad and Matthew Dahlhausen recently published a new peer reviewed paper on the energy use patterns classification of LEED NC certified office buildings.

The study suggests energy simulation guidelines and rating programs promote common techniques for internal load reduction as valid methods for reducing total building energy use.

Read a full post about the paper at the new GBIG Insight. Check out the full paper to be published in Energy and Buildings here

CITY-EN Receives 5 "Excellent" Reviews

Community Infrastructure for Transformation of Urban Ecos Ystems through Energy Populatio N Interactions [CITY-EN], a project proposed for the National Science Foundation’s 2014 Sustainable Research Network Grant, has received five excellent panel reviews; a critical step for it moving forward.

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Sustainability Research Networks are aimed at

"bringing together multidisciplinary teams of researchers, educators, managers, policymakers, and other stakeholders to conduct collaborative research that addresses fundamental challenges in sustainability."

For 2014 the NSF was looking for research networks looking into urban sustainability.

The proposed CITY-EN research network brings together over 20 investigators from 7 universities, with interdisciplinary expertise in climate/city modeling, renewable energy, building systems, power systems, energy economics, energy storage, system dynamics, public health, urban planning, sociology, public policy, education, and natural resources/ecology.

The proposed research will focus on urban energy sustainability as a key application challenge, but the underlying research framework is truly interdisciplinary and will take into account coupled challenges in the transportation/water infrastructures.

The CITY-EN project is still in the proposal review phases of the National Science Foundation. For more information about the project and to track its progress follow its project page. For more information about the National Science Foundation’s SRN project check out project page.

Simulation Platform Archived

Over a years time from April 2013 to April 2014, members of 13 organizations lead by the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (EEB Hub) constructed a comprehensive web based energy simulation platform. The platform which utilizes 6 simulation engines (AHSRAE Inverse Modeling Toolkit, IBM Inverse Modeling Engine, MIT Design Advisor Engine, UTRC Energy AUdit DeepRetro Engine, and DOE's OpenStudio & EnergyPlus) over 4 diffent levels of input and simulation complexity. The whole platform is aimed at the retrofit building market and provides a tool for everyone from building owners to auditors to engineers and analysts to get involved in building performance discussion

Fast Facts about the Simulation Platform

  • 53 people from 13 organizations in 12 cities.
  • 10+ software packages integrated into 1 web platfrom
  • 15,750+ pageviews @
  • 3 case studies from 6 world reknowned institutions for a total of 18 retrofit energy models
  • 4 reports, 5 presentations, and2 focus groups
  • 90,431 lines of code

Thanks to contributions from the Building Science Group, the open source simulation platform will continue to be available live on the internet at