Building science

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Small furnace capable of 600°C and of applying a static load for testing building materials

Building science is the collection of scientific knowledge that focuses on the analysis of the physical phenomena affecting buildings. It traditionally includes the areas of building materials, building envelope, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, natural and electrical lighting, architectural acoustic, indoor air quality, passive strategies, fire protection, and renewable energies in buildings. Building physics, architectural science and applied physics are terms used for the knowledge domain that overlaps with building science. The practical purpose of building science is to provide predictive capability to optimize the building performance of new and existing buildings, understand or prevent building failures, and guide the design of new techniques and technologies.


Building science refers to the study of the quantitative impacts of building elements (predominantly the mechanical system and the building enclosure) on the building’s performance.

Areas of building performance impacted by both mechanical systems and the building enclosure include:

  • Interior climatic conditions, including temperature, relative humidity, pressure, and air movement
  • Interior air quality, including airborne pollutants present inside the building
  • Moisture accumulation within the building and potential for mold growth
  • Acoustic performance of interior spaces
  • Quality of natural and artificial light
  • Building energy use

These performance areas are traditionally evaluated in the field of building science and are related to the building’s ability to provide a thermally comfortable and healthy environment for the building occupants and reduce resource consumption.

During the architectural design process, computational tools can be used to predict building performance based on input information about the design’s mechanical system and enclosure. These tools are valuable for evaluating a design and ensuring it will perform within an acceptable range before construction even begins. Many of the available computational tools have the capability to analyze building performance goals and output an optimal architectural geometry based on those goals; often through use of genetic algorithms.[1]

When existing buildings are being evaluated computational tools can be used to evaluate performance based on measured existing conditions. Alternately, an array of in-field testing equipment can be used to measure temperature, moisture, sound levels, air pollutants, or other criteria. 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 heat gain or heat loss through the enclosure.[2]

The fields of passive design and sustainable design are often considered part of building science as well. Passive design refers to the use of building geometry and construction to regulate heat and airflow in the interior without the use of active mechanical systems. Sustainable design refers to architecture designed with the goal of reducing resource use (such as energy and water), minimizing the environmental impact of the building materials used, or generally reducing the environmental impact of the building.

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)[edit]

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 damp conditions. 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[3], 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.[1]

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.

HVAC systems[edit]

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.[4]

Enclosure (envelope) systems[edit]

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 heat, air, vapor, solar radiation, insects, noise, etc. Daylight transmittance through glazed components of the facade can be analyzed to evaluate the reduced need for electric lighting.[5]

High Performance Facades Case Studies: [2]

Building sustainability[edit]

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.


There are no professional architecture or engineering certifications for building science. It is currently a specialization within these broad areas of practice. 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. This is true in Canada for most of the Certified Energy Advisors. However, 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).

List of principal building science journals[edit]

Building and Environment: This international journal publishes original research papers and review articles related to building science and human interaction with the built environment. [3]

Building Research and Information: This journal focuses on buildings, building stocks and their supporting systems. Unique to BRI is a holistic and transdisciplinary approach to buildings, which acknowledges the complexity of the built environment and other systems over their life. Published articles utilize conceptual and evidence-based approaches which reflect the complexity and linkages between culture, environment, economy, society, organizations, quality of life, health, well-being, design and engineering of the built environment. [4]

Building Simulation: This international journal publishes original, high quality, peer-reviewed research papers and review articles dealing with modeling and simulation of buildings including their systems. The goal is to promote the field of building science and technology to such a level that modeling will eventually be used in every aspect of building construction as a routine instead of an exception. Of particular interest are papers that reflect recent developments and applications of modeling tools and their impact on advances of building science and technology. Impact Factor: 0.631 [5]

Energy and Buildings: This international journal is devoted to investigations of energy use and efficiency in buildings. [6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nguyen, Anh-Tuan; Reiter, Sigrid; Rigo, Philippe (2014-01-01). "A review on simulation-based optimization methods applied to building performance analysis". Applied Energy. 113: 1043–1058. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2013.08.061. ISSN 0306-2619.
  2. ^ Balaras, C.A.; Argiriou, A.A. (2002-02-01). "Infrared thermography for building diagnostics". Energy and Buildings. 34 (2): 171–183. doi:10.1016/s0378-7788(01)00105-0. ISSN 0378-7788.
  3. ^ Fisk, W. J.; Lei-Gomez, Q.; Mendell, M. J. (2007-07-25). "Meta-analyses of the associations of respiratory health effects with dampness and mold in homes". Indoor Air. 17 (4): 284–296. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0668.2007.00475.x. ISSN 0905-6947.
  4. ^ Brager, Gail S.; de Dear, Richard J. (1998-02-01). "Thermal adaptation in the built environment: a literature review". Energy and Buildings. 27 (1): 83–96. doi:10.1016/s0378-7788(97)00053-4. ISSN 0378-7788.
  5. ^ Leslie, R.P. (2003-02-01). "Capturing the daylight dividend in buildings: why and how?". Building and Environment. 38 (2): 381–385. doi:10.1016/s0360-1323(02)00118-x. ISSN 0360-1323.

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