Building Science


The goal of the building science plank of the Iowa NSF EPSCoR project is to understand the relationship between building science, design, and human behavior in existing structures in Iowa, and engage students and the community in energy utilization awareness. This plank is part of the Energy Utilization platform and is led by Ulrike Passe, assistant professor of architecture at Iowa State University,


  • Interlock House as community laboratory in partnership with Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources to study various energy efficiency strategies and design tools.
  • Columbus Community High School
  • Develop community laboratories in middle and high schools
  • Broader impact activities and curricular development

Interlock House Community Laboratory

The residential community lab project is led by Ulrike Passe and is aimed at optimizing energy efficiency through design strategies. This project combines the effort of onsite measurements and experiments together with simulation based studies.

The Interlock House representing Iowa State University at 2009 Solar Decathlon is one of the community labs of this project. Various types of sensors are installed to study the design performance and energy flow in the community lab. ANSYS Fluent is utilized to simulate and study natural ventilation and solar heating effects on the Interlock House. Onsite measurements will help to validate the computational simulation models, and validated models will enable the development of design guidelines to reduce energy consumption in existing and new residential construction. Wind tunnel experiments of natural ventilation strategies of the Interlock House will be conducted in 2013 at Iowa State University.

This project aims to provide design guidelines for passive heating and cooling strategies in Iowa by:

  1. Making full use of solar radiation to heat the interior in winter.
  2. Promoting natural ventilation to cool and refresh the interior air in mild seasons.
  3. Integrating daylight design with spatial composition measurement data.
[IMAGE]Computational simulation
Computational simulation models show the temperates of interior surfaces inside the Interlock house. The house is located at Honey Creek State Park in Iowa. its energy usage is being studied as part of the Iowa NSF EPSCoR project.

Computational simulation models show the temperatures of interior surfaces inside the Interlock house. The house is located at Honey Creek State Park in Iowa. its energy usage is being studied as part of the Iowa NSF EPSCoR project.

The research team includes Passe, post-doctoral research associate Shan He, and cooperating researchers from Iowa State’s department of Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering. Students from Iowa State’s College of Design are conducting tests on liquid desiccant dehumidification systems, day lighting research, weather data collection, and educational video production for high school students.

Living with the Sun Educational Video Series

The Building Science team has developed a series of videos based on the Interlock solar house to help teach energy efficiency concepts to high school physics classes. The series is called “Living with the Sun.” See the videos.

Improving Energy Efficiency in Columbus Community High School

The Building Science plank will develop research infrastructure across Iowa by utilizing existing school buildings as research instruments to investigate building energy utilization. Analyzing structures, identifying which technologies should be applied, and understanding the impact of human behavior on overall facility performance are key factors in optimizing energy efficiency. By integrating occupant participation into the research, the platform aims to gain a holistic understanding of all the parameters that jointly increase efficiency of existing buildings.

Columbus Community High School in Columbus Junction has been selected as the first school to take part. The school has already been retrofitted with a modern building envelope, so the integrated design team proposes to update the school library and student commons with new lighting fixtures, occupancy sensors, solar-adaptive window shades and insulated ceiling tiles to improve the learning environment and to improve energy efficiency. The parking lot lights and exterior security lighting will be updated with light emitting diodes. Monitors for gas, water, and electricity will be installed prior to the retrofit to provide baseline energy usage data. Our project focuses not only on the building upgrades, but also on engaging the students and community members in sustainability and energy utilization awareness.

Columbus Community High School serves the rural community surrounding Columbus Junction, Iowa, with approximately 300 students currently enrolled. The district has a diverse population, 65% of which is Hispanic with a growing number of Burmese residents. Fostering a relationship with Columbus Community Schools not only fulfills Iowa EPSCoR’s mission of building partnerships with Iowa school districts, but provides a relevant setting to learn about the impacts of energy utilization.

The research team on this project includes Craig Just, a professor of engineering at the University of Iowa, and Melissa Ward, a research associate.

For more information about this project, see the article, Lowering Energy Costs for Schools.