Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs: DUE 11:59pm ET on February 22, 2019


People in the U.S. spend a significant amount of time in buildings. We go to work or school and often spend the day in commercial building such as offices, schools, and stores; or industrial facilities. We go home to residences in a variety of settings (rural, suburban, and urban) and climates (humid or dry/ hot or cold). But buildings can have energy bills that equal 20 to 30% of total household income, much higher than what the 6% that is considered affordable by economists 1 2 3 ; thereby limiting the amount of money American families have for basic necessities. Furthermore, depending on how these buildings are constructed, they could contain hidden health hazards posing risk to their inhabitants.


Well documented health hazards include asbestos and lead paint, and public health entities have enacted laws and guidelines for the abatements of these hazards. Other hazards exist, including the existence of mold and mildew in building walls, in particular mold has been shown to contribute asthma development in children.4 Cost effective solutions to improve the energy efficiency, indoor health, and safety of our buildings are needed.

Mold and mildew in building walls can be caused by the infiltration of humid air into the airspaces that exist in between the layers of materials that were built together to create the walls of a building, which are part of the total building envelope. Mold on hidden wall surfaces can contribute to respiratory health problems in the U.S. as mold spores can detach from these surfaces and reenter buildings.

In addition to reducing the indoor air quality of our homes and businesses, air infiltration/exfiltration essentially allows conditioned air to "escape" to the outside and unconditioned air to enter. This increases the total amount of air that needs heated or cooled in the building. Improving the building envelope reduces the need for heating and cooling, in turn saving energy and money for the owner or occupants of the building.

Insulation in walls and ceilings also helps to reduce heating and cooling needs of buildings by preventing energy losses (through conduction and radiation) through the building envelope. There are over 114 million existing homes that are a vintage of 2009 or older, 5 but many of these homes were constructed at a time when buildings codes, or laws that dictate how buildings should be constructed, did not require an amount of insulation necessary to prevent unnecessary energy and financial waste.

Solutions that allow the existing building envelope to be retrofit (i.e. updated), with walls that are more energy efficient, airtight, moisture-resistant, and therefore healthier are needed. These walls can improve the occupant's level of comfort, which is impacted by the temperature, humidity, and air flow. The retrofit is also an opportunity to improve the wall durability, or how well the wall holds up when impacted by adverse environmental conditions like moisture or force.

The Challenge

Design a product that can be used for a residential building wall retrofit intended to replace or supplement current, leaky, and unhealthy walls. Your product should include a solution that prevents moisture build-up in the wall so that it prevents mold growth. Your product show also be structurally sound, address air infiltration, and address insulation needs. You must select a design location so that your "wall retrofit solution" can stand up in a specific climate zone. Ideally you will use the U.S. Department of Energy climate region6 associated with your college's or university's locale. Your product should meet the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code.7 Assume that the original infrastructure that your product will replace is from a base model single family home of 2,400 square feet, built in 1975.8

Include in your response:
  • Base or existing code for your locale/climate zone
  • How the wall, roof or window will retrofit (materials added, efficiency levels, air tightness, permeability, constructability, installation)
  • Why it will not create a moisture problem
  • How it addresses the issue of air tightness
  • How it will address some or all of the problems described in the background section, including: improving indoor air quality, reducing energy costs associated with space conditioning, and providing a cost efficient solution that will help low income families.

What Idea Responses Should Include

Ideas can be up to 1,500 words and may be attached as a PDF in the JUMP into STEM response form. Winning submissions should be thoughtful, well-articulated, innovative and/or unique. Judges will consider how your response addresses the requirements detailed in the Challenge, including:

  1. Explanation/use of base or existing code for your locale/climate zone
  2. Consideration of and description of how the wall, roof or window will retrofit (materials added, efficiency levels, airtightness, permeability, constructability, installation)
  3. Clear explanation of why your idea will not create a moisture problem
  4. How your idea addresses air tightness requirements
  5. How your idea addresses some or all of the following: improving indoor air quality, reducing energy costs associated with space conditioning, and providing a cost efficient solution that will help low income families.
A few guidelines to keep in mind:
  • All are welcome: All community members are welcome and encouraged to participate in the dialogue.
  • Be respectful: Please, no remarks that are off topic or offensive.
  • No solicitation: Please, no promotions or endorsements for specific commercial services or products.
  • Response time: Where applicable, a JUMP team member will respond to process and program related questions within 2 business days.

Active JUMP into STEM Challenges will be open for idea submission, voting, and commenting for a minimum of 8 weeks. A panel of judges will select the Finalist Awards based on the idea's potential impact on reducing energy consumption in buildings as well as a review of how unique, innovative, well-articulated and thoughtful the idea submission is. See the Schedule section for specific due dates and milestones.

One of the unique advantages of the JUMP crowdsourcing community is that it engages users in evaluating and reviewing the ideas through the "voting" and "comment" functions. The ORNL,NREL, DOE, and University Partners use this information to gauge interest in the topic and idea submission. A leading number of votes or comments, however, does not guarantee advancement, but is one indicator in the judging phase of considering ideas for Finalist Awards.

For information on how the JUMP into STEM process works, please visit the How it Works section on the JUMP into STEM website.

For More Information

Be sure to check out the Round 3 webinar series – a creative virtual seminar forum where you can learn more about the Round 3 Challenge and industry's experiences with addressing wall performance and designing wall retrofit solutions.

Webinar 1: Market Reality: The Need for Cost-Effective Wall Retrofits; Chioke Harris, NREL.

Date: December 5th from 2 to 3pm ET

Webinar 2: Industrializing Net Zero through RetrofitNY with Jonathan Benezry, NYSERDA. Mr. Benezry will present on New York's efforts to utilize innovations in wall technologies to achieve net-zero energy ready buildings.

Date: December 11th, 11am to 12noon ET

Webinar 3: How do home improvement contractors address wall performance needs?

Date: January 30, 2019, 2pm to 3pm ET


1: http://insideenergy.org/2016/05/08/high-utility-costs-force-hard-decisions-for-the-poor/
2: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/energy-poverty-low-income-households/486197/
3: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/khalil-shahyd/study-highlights-energy-burden-households-and-how-energy-efficiency-can-help
4: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/household-molds-linked-childhood-asthma
5: https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/data/2015/hc/php/hc2.3.php
6: https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/maps/building-america-climate-specific-guidance-image-map
7: https://codes.iccsafe.org/public/document/toc/545/
8: https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/data/2015/hc/php/hc2.3.php


RetrofitNY - https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/RetrofitNY
Energie Sprong - https://energiesprong.org
The Perfect Wall, Building Science Corp - https://buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-001-the-perfect-wall
Dense Pack Insulation Information, Building Science Corp - https://buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-043-dont-be-dense
Drainage Planes and Air Barriers, Building Science Corp - https://buildingscience.com/documents/reports/rr-9909-drainage-planes-and-air-spaces/view
Comfort tool - http://comfort.cbe.berkeley.edu/
Hygrothermal modeling - https://www.ubakus.de/?p=all
NREL's Modeling and Assessment tools - https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/data-tools.html