Building science is the collection of scientific knowledge that focuses on the analysis of the physical phenomena affecting buildings. Building physics, architectural science and applied physics are terms used for the knowledge domain that overlaps with building science.
Building science traditionally includes the study of indoor thermal environment, indoor acoustic environment, indoor light environment, indoor air quality, and building resource use, including energy and building material use. These areas are studied in terms of physical principles, relationship to building occupant health, comfort, and productivity, and how they can be controlled by the building envelope and electrical and mechanical systems. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) additionally includes the areas of building information modeling, building commissioning, fire protection engineering, seismic design and resilient design within its scope.
The practical purpose of building science is to provide predictive capability to optimize the building performance and sustainability of new and existing buildings, understand or prevent building failures, and guide the design of new techniques and technologies.
During the architectural design process, building science knowledge is used to inform design decisions to optimize building performance. Design decisions can be made based on knowledge of building science principles and established guidelines, such as the NIBS Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) and the collection of ASHRAE Standards related to building science.
Computational tools can be used during design to simulate building performance based on input information about the designed building envelope, lighting system, and mechanical system. Models can be used to predict energy use over the building life, solar heat and radiation distribution, air flow, and other physical phenomena within the building. These tools are valuable for evaluating a design and ensuring it will perform within an acceptable range before construction begins. Many of the available computational tools have the capability to analyze building performance goals and perform design optimization. The accuracy of the models is influenced by the modeler's knowledge of building science principles and by the amount of validation performed for the specific program.
When existing buildings are being evaluated, measurements and computational tools can be used to evaluate performance based on measured existing conditions. An array of in-field testing equipment can be used to measure temperature, moisture, sound levels, air pollutants, or other criteria. Standardized procedures for taking these measurements are provided in the Performance Measurement Protocols for Commercial Buildings. For example, thermal infrared (IR) imaging devices can be used to measure temperatures of building components while the building is in use. These measurements can be used to evaluate how the mechanical system is operating and if there are areas of anomalous heat gain or heat loss through the building envelope.
Measurements of conditions in existing buildings are used as part of post occupancy evaluations. Post occupancy evaluations may also include surveys of building occupants to gather data on occupant satisfaction and well-being and to gather qualitative data on building performance that may not have been captured by measurement devices.
Many aspects of building science are the responsibility of the architect (in Canada, many architectural firms employ an architectural technologist for this purpose), often in collaboration with the engineering disciplines that have evolved to handle 'non-building envelope' building science concerns: Civil engineering, Structural engineering, Earthquake engineering, Geotechnical engineering, Mechanical engineering, Electrical engineering, Acoustic engineering, & fire code engineering. Even the interior designer will inevitably generate a few building science issues.
Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) refers to the quality of a building's environment in relation to the health and wellbeing of those who occupy space within it. IEQ is determined by many factors, including lighting, air quality, and temperature. Workers are often concerned that they have symptoms or health conditions from exposures to contaminants in the buildings where they work. One reason for this concern is that their symptoms often get better when they are not in the building. While research has shown that some respiratory symptoms and illnesses can be associated with damp buildings, it is still unclear what measurements of indoor contaminants show that workers are at risk for disease. In most instances where a worker and his or her physician suspect that the building environment is causing a specific health condition, the information available from medical tests and tests of the environment is not sufficient to establish which contaminants are responsible. Despite uncertainty about what to measure and how to interpret what is measured, research shows that building-related symptoms are associated with building characteristics, including dampness, cleanliness, and ventilation characteristics.
Indoor environments are highly complex and building occupants may be exposed to a variety of contaminants (in the form of gases and particles) from office machines, cleaning products, construction activities, carpets and furnishings, perfumes, cigarette smoke, water-damaged building materials, microbial growth (fungal, mold, and bacterial), insects, and outdoor pollutants. Other factors such as indoor temperatures, relative humidity, and ventilation levels can also affect how individuals respond to the indoor environment. Understanding the sources of indoor environmental contaminants and controlling them can often help prevent or resolve building-related worker symptoms. Practical guidance for improving and maintaining the indoor environment is available.
Building indoor environment covers the environmental aspects in the design, analysis, and operation of energy-efficient, healthy, and comfortable buildings. Fields of specialization include architecture, HVAC design, thermal comfort, indoor air quality (IAQ), lighting, acoustics, and control systems.
The mechanical systems, usually a sub-set of the broader Building Services, used to control the temperature, humidity, pressure and other select aspects of the indoor environment are often described as the Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems. These systems have grown in complexity and importance (often consuming around 20% of the total budget in commercial buildings) as occupants demand tighter control of conditions, buildings become larger, and enclosures and passive measures became less important as a means of providing comfort.
Building science includes the analysis of HVAC systems for both physical impacts (heat distribution, air velocities, relative humidities, etc.) and for effect on the comfort of the building's occupants. Because occupants' perceived comfort is dependent on factors such as current weather and the type of climate the building is located in, the needs for HVAC systems to provide comfortable conditions will vary across projects.
The building enclosure is the part of the building that separates the indoors from the outdoors. This includes the wall, roof, windows, slabs on grade, and joints between all of these. The comfort, productivity, and even health of building occupants in areas near the building enclosure (i.e., perimeter zones) are affected by outdoor influences such as noise, temperature, and solar radiation, and by their ability to control these influences. As part of its function, the enclosure must control (not necessarily block or stop) the flow of moisture, heat, air, vapor, solar radiation, insects, or noise, while resisting the loads imposed on the structure (wind, seismic). Daylight transmittance through glazed components of the facade can be analyzed to evaluate the reduced need for electric lighting.
Part of building science is the attempt to design buildings with consideration for the future and the resources and realities of tomorrow. This field may also be referred to as sustainable design.
A push towards zero-energy building also known as Net-Zero Energy Building has been present in the Building Science field. The qualifications for Net Zero Energy Building Certification can be found on the Living Building Challenge website.
Although there are no direct or integrated professional architecture or engineering certifications for building science, there are independent professional credentials associated with the disciplines. Building science is typically a specialization within the broad areas of architecture or engineering practice. However, there are professional organizations offering individual professional credentials in specialized areas. Some of the most prominent green building rating systems are:
There are other building sustainability accreditation and certification institutions as well. Also in the US, contractors certified by the Building Performance Institute, an independent organization, advertise that they operate businesses as Building Scientists. This is questionable due to their lack of scientific background and credentials. On the other hand, more formal building science experience is true in Canada for most of the Certified Energy Advisors. Many of these trades and technologists require and receive some training in very specific areas of building science (e.g., air tightness, or thermal insulation).
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