Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs


Building envelopes separate indoor, conditioned spaces from outdoor environments, and shelter building occupants from weather, sunlight, and noise. The building envelope includes the building foundation, walls, roof, ceiling, windows, and items inside these building elements, such as insulation. The envelope serves as a means to support the structure and control the transfer of heat, light, and air between inside and outside, while being aesthetically pleasing. Yet many building envelopes are not tightly sealed, allowing uncontrolled and unwanted air exchange between indoor and outdoor environments.

Poor envelopes allow conditioned air to "escape" to the outside (exfiltration) and unconditioned air to enter (infiltration). These airflows increase the total amount of air that needs to be 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 the heating and cooling needs of buildings by preventing energy losses (from heat transfer) through the building envelope.

But many homes do not have insulation because they were built before insulation requirements were in place. Residences can have energy bills that equal 20% to 30% of total annual household income, much higher than the 6% considered affordable by economists1 2 3 . High energy costs can limit the amount of money American families have for basic necessities.

Building envelopes can also become health hazards to occupants if they contain asbestos, lead paint, mold, or mildew. Public health entities have enacted laws and guidelines for the abatement of asbestos and lead paints. Mold and mildew are caused in part by the infiltration of humid air into the airspaces between layers of materials in the building envelope. Mold spores can detach from these surfaces and reenter the building. Among other consequences, mold has been shown to contribute to the development of asthma in children4.

Solutions are needed that allow the existing building envelope to be retrofitted (i.e., updated) to make walls more energy-efficient, airtight, moisture-resistant, and—therefore—healthier, are needed. These walls can also improve occupant comfort, which is impacted by temperature, humidity, and airflow. An envelope retrofit is also an opportunity to improve durability, so the envelope can better handle moisture without suffering short-term damage or long-term decay.

Problem Definition

Identify a specific community that is impacted by poor building envelope performance. Describe this stakeholder community and the specific challenges it faces. The community can be a subset of U.S. households with specific needs, such as manufactured housing, single family detached residences, multifamily residences, or small commercial buildings. Identify the U.S. Department of Energy climate region for this community5. If the stakeholder community exists in many different geographic areas representing multiple climate zones, choose a familiar climate zone.

The Challenge

Design a product or system that can be used for a residential building wall retrofit intended to replace or supplement current leaky and unhealthy walls. The submission should include a solution that prevents moisture buildup in the wall to reduce the potential for mold growth. The submission should also be structurally sound and address air infiltration and insulation needs. The wall retrofit solution must be appropriate for the stakeholder community's climate region and should meet or exceed the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code for the climate in question (Table C402.1.3)6. Assume that the original infrastructure the product will update or replace is from a base model single family home of 2,400 ft2, built in 19757.

The response should include:

  • How the wall will be retrofitted (materials added, efficiency levels, airtightness, permeability, constructability, installation).
  • Why the proposed solution will not create a moisture problem.
  • How the proposed solution addresses the issue of airtightness.
  • How the proposed solution will address some or all of the problems described in the background section, including improving indoor air quality, reducing energy costs associated with heating and cooling, and providing a cost-effective solution that will help low-income families.
  • How the stakeholder community will benefit from the innovation.


Competing in this challenge is open to student teams currently enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges. See the Terms and Conditions for eligibility requirements. Please note that you must complete your Building Technologies Internship Program (BTIP) application before or at the same time as you submit your idea in order to compete in the JUMP competition.

Teams are required to have representatives from at least two different majors.

Teams that have gender balance, such as an equal number of women and men, will receive more points in the Diversity of Thought category than teams of only one gender. However, gender balance is not required, and teams consisting of only one gender are welcome.

Written responses can be up to five pages, single-spaced, and may be attached as a PDF in the JUMP into STEM response form. Please include a list of references. Appendices are welcome but may not be reviewed by the judges. References and appendices do not count towards the five-page limit.

Submissions should include a project team statement. The statement should describe the perspective or skill that each team member brings to the project. The statement should include a note on the mix of majors, backgrounds, genders, etc., represented on the student team.

Evaluation Criteria

Technical (45%)

  • Impact to reduce energy consumption in buildings.
  • Ability to maximize occupant comfort and/or indoor air quality.
  • Technical potential and merit.
  • Response meets all technical requests of the challenge.

Innovation (35%)

  • Market characterization and readiness for proposed idea.
  • Replicability and scalability.
  • Is the idea unique and/or innovative?

Diversity of Thought (20%)

  • Multidisciplinary team approach (meets requirement for 2 of more majors on a team). Teams should comment on their majors in their project team statement.
  • Gender balance: More points will be awarded to teams that attain even male/female split.
  • Based on the idea submitted, do the students bring a unique perspective to the problem?
    • This includes whether the report presents students' perspective on how their solution will address a need for a society or a subset of society, such as a marginalized population. Do the students understand these stakeholders' needs?
    • This also includes whether the team members bring diverse perspectives to the problem, as identified in the project team statement.

Helpful Webinars

Be sure to check out the webinar series for the Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs Challenge – a creative virtual seminar forum where you can learn more about the challenge and the industry's experiences with addressing wall performance and designing wall retrofit solutions.

Webinar #1: Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs with Andre Desjarlais, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Webinar #2: Market Reality: The Need for Cost-Effective Wall Retrofits; Chioke Harris, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Webinar #3: Industrializing Net Zero through RetrofitNY with Jonathan Benezry, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)

Webinar #4:Field Experiences in Implementing Wall Retrofit, Matt Waring and Bill Riggs, Viridiant

Other Information

Everyone, including students, professors, individuals, innovators, entrepreneurs, or others, are encouraged to vote or comment on the challenge. 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 two business days.


1: High Utility Costs Force Hard Decisions For The Poor - http://insideenergy.org/2016/05/08/high-utility-costs-force-hard-decisions-for-the-poor/
2: Where the Poor Spend More Than 10 Percent of Their Income on Energy - https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/energy-poverty-low-income-households/486197/
3: Study Highlights Energy Burden for Households and How Energy Efficiency Can Help - https://www.nrdc.org/experts/khalil-shahyd/study-highlights-energy-burden-households-and-how-energy-efficiency-can-help
4: Household Molds Linked to Childhood Asthma - https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/household-molds-linked-childhood-asthma
5: Building America Climate-Specific Guidance - https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/maps/building-america-climate-specific-guidance-image-map
6: 2015 International Energy Conservation Code - https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IECC2015/toc
7: Building America Climate-Specific Guidance - https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/data/2015/hc/php/hc2.3.php

More Background Details

(@tpzagurs) kudos icon +

Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs


For the JUMP into STEM challenge, I selected “Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs” to create an idea that could improve retrofitting residential walls for lower-income residents. Building envelopes that are poorly insulated can lead to huge amounts of energy usage, causing large electrical payments. Current solutions involve removing the exterior finish of the building envelope and using spray insulation... more »


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(@jdavis1988) and 1 other kudos icon +

Pushing the Envelope with Wall Retrofit Designs


The envelope that we are developing would use lightweight, energy -efficient, and green materials in order to prevent moisture build-up and reduce the leakage . The outer layer will consist of cool bricks, which can be 3-D printed to aid manufacturing. The tiny pockets within the bricks serve to hold water and cool of the structure during the warm times of the year, and prevent moisture getting into the house. Aerogel... more »


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