The cutting edge of design and construction involves enhancing the performance of our buildings to ensure that they last longer, use less energy, and are healthier and more comfortable to inhabit. As we push this edge further, we learn more about the physical phenomena that affect our buildings and how to design in accordance with the laws of physics and the forces of nature. In this class we will explore the field of building science to inform best practices for design and construction of the built environment. With a primary focus on moisture and thermal dynamics, we will identify typical weaknesses and develop strategies for improvements of various building envelopes and mechanical systems. Through lecture, case study, hands-on testing, demonstration, design exercises, and design review, students will not only learn the science behind building performance but have the opportunity to apply their knowledge. Some basic building literacy is stongly suggested.

Course start time: Sunday, 5pm
Course end time: Friday, 5pm

  • Competency Level: Intermediate
  • Sterling College credits: 2 Continuing Education Units ($260 additional)
  • AIA credits: 35 HSW Learning Units

Fundamentals of Building Science

Syllabus Outline


Sunday Evening: Introductions

Welcome, overview of class,

Brief discussion: what do you want to learn? What has been your experience? What are your goals?

Monday AM: Context/BS 101

What is Building Science (BS)?
- Identify major topics of BS: heat, moisture, structure, acoustics, fire, combustion
- History of BS
- BS today: practical application, organizations, resources

Thermodynamics 101:
- Three forms of heat transfer (featuring classroom demos)
- Sensible vs. Latent Heat
- Examples in the built environment

Monday PM: BS 101

Thermodynamics Continued

Hygrodynamics 101:
- Three basic phases of water and its properties
- How water moves (featuring classroom demos)
- Hygro properties of building materials
- Hygrothermal Dynamics: How heat and water work together
- Moisture transport/drive
- Drying potential
- Latent heat of moisture

 The Physics of Comfort

Homework: find one example each of hygrothermal dynamics in natural ecosystem, built environment, and other industry or context and explain in detail the mechanics and variables of these dynamics. Bonus question: Why does fog melt snow faster than sun, rain, or wind?

Tuesday AM: Applied Science in the Building: The Shell

Components of the shell:
- basements/foundations
- walls
- roofs
- Material types and their jobs, ratings, and evaluations (i.e. insulation, R-value, ASTM rating, inverse of conductance)

- Insulation
- Mass
- Windows and Doors
- Air barriers

- Vapor barriers
- Weather-resistant barriers
- Flashing
- Drainage planes
- Cladding/roofing

Tuesday PM: Applied Science in the Building: The Shell (cont.)

 Envelope Theory and Detailing

Thermal Envelopes/Boundaries:
- defining the envelope
- components: insulation and air barrier
- requirements:
- conductive/radiant loss
- convective loss
- cooling
- vapor loading
- liquid moisture

Issues - Heat:
- Thermal bridging
- Air bypasses
- Overheating and coolin
- Old vs. new construction strategies

Moisture and the envelope:
- Condensation
- Precipitation
- Other leaks
- Old vs. new construction strategies

 Field trip to building to perform infrared thermography and blower-door test to illustrate functioning of building systems

Homework: Draw one foundation-to-wall or wall-to-roof detail of your choice, identifying thermal and moisture control systems and their connections

Wednesday AM: The Building as a Whole System

- Interconnection of envelope, mechanical systems, layout, use patterns
- Renovation: a history of mistakes
- New construction: troubleshooting high-performance building strategies
- Systems of the building:
- Heating

Wednesday PM: Systems of the Building (cont.)

- cooling
- ventilation
- Electricity

Other gains - maximizing and minimizing:
- Solar gain
- Internal gains: lighting, plug loads
- Tours of system types
- combustion testing
- IR scanning of heating systems
- ventilation system eval/exhaust fan testing

Homework: Design the mechanical schematics for a model building

Thursday AM: Designing with Science

- Start with the site
- climate (rainfall, HDD/CDD, insolation)
- challenge: find all relevant climate data for your location
- sun
- wind/exposure
- regulations and local ordinances
- Invest in the envelope
- shape
- orientation
- profile
- construction
- upfront vs long-term costs
- Consider mechanicals
- appropriate sizing
- ventilation, heating, DHW
- modeling for heat loss/energy load
- fuel types
- water systems
- air and ventilation
- upfront vs long-term costs

Thursday PM: Predicting and Prescribing Performance 

- Discussion: building standards, including LEED, EnergyStar, Passivhaus, state energy code - the benefits and drawbacks, prescriptive vs. performance-based standards and codes

- Ecological science and the expanded definition of performance

Homework: Begin final design project - design a high-performance new building, or performance retrofit of existing project of your choice, including basic shell and mechanical specification in response to specific climatic and site-based circumstances.

Friday AM: Studio - Final Project

Friday PM: Present Final Project/Graduate!



Start Date: February 15, 2015