Saving Energy in Military Family Housing


An open chaseway for ducts and flues contributed to increased air infiltration in this family housing unit, and exposed uninsulated interior walls to attic temperatures.

More than 350,000 families live in U.S. military housing. The buildings, most of which were built 20-40 years ago, are often energy inefficient. In addition, the government pays the utility bills, so tenants have little incentive to conserve energy. It is not surprising, therefore, that inspections of military family housing by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have revealed great potential for energy savings. ORNL is helping the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army to improve efficiency during the military's current efforts to meet new housing needs, provide housing quality comparable to that found in the private sector, and meet reductions in energy consumption mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPAct).

The president's Executive Order 12902 mandates that, by 2005, the military reduce its energy consumption by 30% (compared to 1985 consumption). The armed forces will need help from the energy efficiency profession to meet this goal.

The military's housing upgrade is taking three forms: new construction, revitalization, and retrofit. New construction activity is intended to provide well-built, energy-efficient, and comfortable new housing. Revitalization typically involves redesign of an existing house's interior, which requires extensive interior demolition and reconstruction. Retrofit is specifically directed at weatherizing and improving the energy efficiency of housing that is not scheduled for revitalization.

ORNL recently inspected housing at four military installations and found deficiencies similar to those found frequently in private housing. For instance, many homes had duct problems, and the thermal boundaries of the houses were often undefined. Basements heated by supply registers were not insulated, and some even opened into crawlspaces. Floors of second-story overhangs and floors above ventilated crawlspaces were often uninsulated.

Though measured infiltration rates were not generally high, large attic bypasses were still found in some homes, allowing conditioned air to escape into the attic and outside air to infiltrate into the house. The researchers found other problems as well. Landscaping next to air conditioner condensing units caused recirculation of hot exhaust air through the condenser, and it also plugged the condenser coils with pollen. Hot water temperatures were often greater than 130 oF and sometimes greater than 150 oF. High-efficiency condensing furnaces were occasionally installed in houses with low or moderate heating loads, where they were not cost-effective. And new furnaces were often oversized.

A supply duct was disconnected from the supply plenum in this family housing unit, allowing conditioned air to escape into the attic.Recently revitalized buildings had the same types of construction flaws as units awaiting revitalization, though they had received energy improvements, such as new double-pane windows and high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment. These programs have generally failed to fix design and construction flaws, and they sometimes build in new energy-related problems.

To remedy these deficiencies, ORNL is developing three guides for the Air Force and the Army, in cooperation with the National Association of Home Builders Research Center and the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation. There will be a design guide, a retrofit program guide, and a quality assurance guide.

The design guide has already been completed. It helps architectural and engineering firms to choose prudent, cost-effective energy efficiency measures for new construction or revitalization. For revitalization projects, designers will perform site inspections of existing housing to identify energy deficiencies.

The retrofit program guide is being developed for Air Force and Army installation personnel. It establishes a retrofit process similar to those used in state, utility, and other civilian weatherization programs to select and specify appropriate energy efficiency measures. The guide also establishes an action plan for securing funds and implementing recommended measures.

Landscaping plants placed too close to the air conditioner condenser in this family housing unit promoted recirculation of air through the condenser and plugged the condenser coil with pollen.To ensure proper implementation of the design and retrofit guides, ORNL is working on a quality assurance guide for installation inspectors and contracting officers. This guide will outline review activities to be performed by the contracting officer to ensure that the architectural and engineering firms have thoroughly evaluated energy efficiency options. The guide will also outline procedures that construction inspectors can use to ensure that energy efficiency measures are properly installed.

The new push for energy efficiency in military housing creates opportunities for civilian contractors and individuals experienced with state-of-the-art energy auditing, retrofitting, and building. In new construction, the Air Force and the Army will need energy specialists to conduct performance testing on houses, to test air distribution system leakage, and to work with builders before performance testing is done to install energy efficiency measures. Revitalization contractors will need experienced help to perform air sealing, duct repairs, sidewall insulation, and space-heating system improvements. And the retrofit program guide recommends calling in energy service providers for initial inspections and diagnostics, analysis, and selection of retrofit measures. In addition, civilian energy contractors may be hired to develop implementation approaches and verify program savings.