University receives $1.5 million to build energy-efficient roofs

by Jason Juno

Standing on a rooftop in the summer makes people feel very hot because of its exposure to the sun and usually dark color. In the winter, it’s cold as snow and ice piles up.

To research how to keep more energy from leaking out of homes all year, the University has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build energy-efficient rooftops.

The grant will be distributed during the next three years.

These roofs would reduce home energy use and would not need trusses, Jane Davidson, a University mechanical engineering professor, wrote in an e-mail. Trusses are supportive structures used for roofs.

“The primary goal is to save energy by decreasing heat loss through the roof,” wrote Davidson, who works for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering in Switzerland.

The Department of Energy awarded the grant because finding better insulation options could save energy in homes, Chris Kielich, press officer for the department, said.

Davidson said the Energy Department requested projects such as this and the University’s proposal was chosen.

The University will develop and design the project with General Electric Co. and a home builder, who Davidson said she could not legally identify.

They have been working on the project for one year so far with funds from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Graduate student Daniel Thomas is currently working on the project. Three graduate students will be working on it, Davidson said.

“It is a unique opportunity to work on some very fundamental heat-and mass-transfer and mechanics problems, and at the same time be involved in a creative process with faculty from several colleges and universities,” Davidson said.

The funds from the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment allowed the project to start, she said. Other University departments are providing money for the project, Davidson said.

While windows let substantially more energy out of a house, more efficient roofs are a part of making houses more energy-efficient, said Patrick Huelman, a professor in biobased products engineering. He is also working on the project.

The roof needs to be air-tight and have insulation to be energy-efficient, he said. Other goals of the project include having less ice buildup and, therefore, less water in the attics. Also, people can use the space where trusses would not be needed for other things, such as lofts, Huelman said.

He said roofs now are the same, traditional ones they have been for some time.

“Newer roofing systems have less of an impact compared to older ones, but even the best buildings (homes and commercial) have significant energy loss through the roof,” wrote Marc LaFrance, technology development manager in the Department of Energy’s Office of Building Technology, which is the office that gave the grant to the University.

Other work on the University’s project will include the use of renewable materials and how renewable energy can be used for the building.