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New Ideas for Building Technology Research


New Ideas for Building Technology Research

On May 16, 2012, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) held an invitation-only conference of experts from HUD, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, and some of the leading universities and commercial firms engaged in housing design and construction and building technology to map out the building technology research HUD should undertake in the coming years. To ensure that this research complements similar or related research and development efforts in the government, academic, and commercial sectors, PD&R has embarked on a year-long research roadmapping process. The outcome of this conference will feed into the larger PD&R research agenda-setting that will result in a five-year research agenda. As outgoing Assistant Secretary Raphael Bostic observed, “We need to understand where the frontier is, and where the near frontier is.” Assistant Secretary Bostic asked participants to consider what PD&R’s research agenda roadmap should look like: “What are the issues and challenges we face from the policy perspective? How do we deploy these resources in the most effective ways?”

The conference focused on four types and aspects of housing: disaster response, the renovation of existing housing, green and sustainable, and factory-built. Some of the most promising avenues of research that surfaced during the conference are described below.

Conference participants recommended that PD&R evaluate building upgrades during post-disaster rebuilds and determine how to convert temporary housing units into permanent accessory dwelling units once the effects of a disaster have been eased or resolved. Improving the energy efficiency and disaster resistance of manufactured housing was highlighted as a worthwhile research topic, as was uncovering new applications for factory-built housing. Conference participants also suggested implementing an empirical analysis of the structural performance challenges of manufactured housing (such as connections and joints) as well as improvements in production processes in factory-built housing, for instance lean assembly practices and the use of robotics and other automation. Participants recommended that stakeholders identify strategies for funding home repairs after a disaster, such as coordinating private, insurance, and federal funding sources. The need to address regulatory and local planning issues was also discussed.

Adapting accepted sustainable design, construction, and renovation theories and proven strategies to mainstream practice was recommended. Participants noted that a shorter path from research to implementation will require improvements in education for consumers (who would learn about the long-term health, cost, maintenance requirements, and comfort benefits of green construction and rehabilitation) and for building crews (who need specialized training in assembly and construction techniques for green products). Translational research and dissemination and demonstration projects were suggested as additional focus areas.

Participants agreed that a sampling of HUD’s portfolio of subsidized housing properties should be used to assess the viability of various sustainable rehabilitation strategies. They suggested focusing research on consumer-friendly tools for sustainable living. Key examples included Green Button, an industry-led effort that allows electricity customers to easily download their household or building energy-use data, and mechanisms to allow consumers to easily provide product feedback directly to manufacturers.

To further green and energy-efficient home construction and renovation, researchers need to assess the impact of sustainable and green building products, systems, and design/construction strategies on occupant health, the role of technology in the assessment process, and the use of conceptual modeling tools.

Participants discussed the importance of behavior modification, described as “research beyond bricks and mortar” that identifies ways to change people's attitudes and beliefs about the value of green and sustainable building design strategies and construction practices. Many observed that consumers — both homebuyers and renters — must be educated about the long-term monetary, comfort, and health advantages achievable through sustainable design and construction to stimulate widespread demand.

The conference attendees agreed that coordination among agencies, educational institutions, and commercial enterprises was valuable for sharing experiences and raising the bar on building technology through applied, results-oriented research and dissemination. Recommendations resulting from the day’s discussions are being incorporated into PD&R’s Research Roadmap. This input will inform our discussions on how to prioritize research gaps and deploy PD&R’s assets and resources most effectively, with the aim of maximizing PD&R’s comparative advantage and collaborating even more actively with external partners.