Tiny House - Big Science - Innovations in Building Technology

Annual Symposium of the Rocky Mountain Chapter

Read Abstracts in Tabs for the two sessions. General Schedules are below the abstracts. The Program with abstracts, student posters and vendors can be downloaded HERE.

Mines Tiny House
Lucy Davis  Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO

The Colorado School of Mines student group is building a ~220 ft2 off-grid, net-zero tiny house that will by powered only by the sun.   The house is a research lab in preparation for applying to compete in the next Solar Decathlon.  The Decathlon is an international competition where university teams compete in 10 contests with solar-powered, grid-connected custom houses that are 600 to 1000 ft2.  The student group designed the wood framed house on a trailer to have high quality thermal systems and low water use.  The power system will be a combination of DC and AC electrical, with approximately 10 kWh of battery storage combined with 1.3 kWpeak photovoltaics panels. Energy modeling suggests that the house will be completely self-sufficient for typical loads for the entire year.  Efforts to minimize both energy and water use will be described.

I am a sophomore majoring in Civil Engineering at Colorado School of Mines. I am from the Chicagoland area and am so excited to be spending time in the mountains of Colorado. I joined Mines Tiny House in the middle of my freshman year and I have loved every minute of planning, building, and fundraising. I’m so excited to see this project through; it is truly a unique experience and one that continues to teach me new things everyday.

Passive House

Passive House


Design and the human side of building physics: from physiological needs to climate-responsive solutions

Enrico Bonilauri, Emu Systems, Denver, CO

The presentation highlights the main parameters that define a comfortable and healthy building, with an overview of how these are achieved in different climate zones of the world. Key comfort criteria of the international Passive House standard are illustrated as quality benchmarks for the thermal envelope. Feedback is provided from first-hand field implementation.

A native of Cavriago, Italy, Enrico has a background in sustainable architecture with a specialty in building envelope design and analysis. As a registered Italian architect and a Certified Passive House Consultant, he has extensive work experience in Australia, Europe, and North America. He is particularly skilled in performing detailed computer simulations for thermal, hygrometric and economic analyses, informed by the thousands of hours he has spent on varied construction sites.



Advanced Insulation Materials: Where do they ‘fit’?

Diana Fisler, Johns Manville, Littleton, CO

Traditional insulation technologies for buildings, industrial applications, and appliances include fiber glass, foam, and cellulosic insulation materials. Each of these is designed to control the methods of heat transfer including convection, gas conduction, solid conduction, and radiation in a cost effective manner. While very effective, each of these insulation types reaches a limit in insulating performance due to conduction of heat through the gas phase. In contrast to these common materials, there are some very high performing insulations that are not traditionally used in the building envelope but that find particular use in special application. These are aerogels and vacuum panels. Aerogels take advantage of an interesting property in which the pores in the material are so small that gas conduction of heat is no longer effective, while vacuum panels rely on the removal of gas entirely, eliminating that heat transfer mechanism. The practicality of these insulations will be discussed, including cost, performance over time and temperature ranges, and durability.

Diana Fisler received her bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Geology at the University of Massachusetts, and combined these two areas of study with a PhD in Geophysics from Pennsylvania State University. She joined Johns Manville in 1998 as a glass chemist, developing new glass chemistries for improved production efficiency. She researched new binders for fiber glass, led the Johns Manville product testing laboratories, and served as Platform Leader in Environmental Construction, developing new products and cost savings for commercial roofing products while overseeing a team of engineers and scientists and influencing stakeholders in multiple internal business units. In her current role in the Innovation group she is responsible for: delivering new business opportunities for Johns Manville in a variety of industries; investigating sustainable technologies and businesses; representing Johns Manville at sustainability and green building organizations; and providing expertise at controlling heat, moisture, and air flow through the building envelope. She recently obtained her LEED Green Associate credential.

Modeling and optimization of phase change and smart materials in the building envelope

Paulo Tabares-Velasco, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO

Research on phase change materials (PCM) as a potential technology to reduce peak loads and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) energy use in buildings has been conducted for several decades, resulting in a great deal of literature on PCM properties, temperature, and peak reduction potential. However, more studies have focused in existing PCMs and/or in developing new PCMs. There are also few numerical studies optimizing PCM to enhance precooling strategies when time-of-use (TOU) rates are present. This presentation will demonstrate thermal modeling of phase change materials (PCMs) in the building envelope to identify optimal PCM properties for maximum cost savings. It looks at optimizing PCM properties, location, and precooling strategies for TOU rates in Phoenix, Arizona. It uses PCMs to enhance precooling effectiveness during a 3-hour peak period in summer. Finally, this presentation address how a similar approach can be applied for a range of new smart materials or building envelope technologies.

Dr. Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco is an Assistant Professor at Department of Mechanical Engineering, Colorado School of Mines. His research interests are in building energy simulation, thermal storage, smart materials, heat and mass transfer applied to buildings and building integration with smart grid. Before joining CSM, Dr. Tabares-Velasco was a Research Engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) where he was a developer of NREL’s building simulation/optimization tool BEopt, led NREL technical research on phase change materials in collaboration with the Department of Energy Building Envelope and Windows R&D program, Oak Ridge National Lab, and Fraunhofer CSE.

Developing Microdevices for Surface-Based Sensing of Chemicals and Biochemicals

Steve Semancik,  NIST Gaithersburg

It is extremely difficult to create small electronic devices that can even begin to emulate the remarkable chemical detection capabilities of canines or insects. This presentation will describe chemical and biochemical microsensor research performed at NIST, with an emphasis on methods for overcoming challenges presented in gas-phase sensing. The artificial olfaction approach we have employed is designed to be tunable for varied application sectors, ranging from building and environmental monitoring to medical diagnostic screening. Technical efforts are multidisciplinary, and include device modeling, lithographic fabrication, MEMS, incorporation of nanomaterials, control of surface phenomena via modulation methods, and signal processing. The chemiresistive gas sensing devices (see figure) can be optimized for certain analytical problems by the choice of sensing films incorporated within an array format, and by the way temperature is altered using individually-addressable microheaters to affect adsorbate populations as a function of time. Extensions of the gas-phase device development work toward solution-phase biosensing with plasmonic interfaces and planar electrochemical devices will also be mentioned briefly.

Steve Semancik is the Project Leader of the Chemical and Bioanalytical Microsensor effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Dr. Semancik’s professional research career began as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate, and has been centered in the fields of surface science and sensor science. His recent work has focused on developing improved nanomaterials for chemical and biochemical sensing, and combining such high performance materials with micromachined platforms to realize advanced microsensor devices and operating modes. Dr. Semancik is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Vacuum Society, has served as a Member of the Editorial Board of two sensor journals, and is a Member of the Steering Committee of the International Meeting on Chemical Sensors. He received his B.S. degree in physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and his Sc.M. and Ph.D. degrees, also in physics, from Brown University.

Optimizing Building Performance for Energy Efficiency

Rois Langner, National Renewable Energy Laboratories, Commercial Buildings Research Engineer, Golden, CO

Residential and commercial buildings consume 40% of our nation’s energy. With a growing population, increasing environmental concerns, and rising energy costs, the integration of energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies is essential to today’s building design and renovation projects. NREL’s Commercial Buildings Research Group is working to optimize building performance for energy efficiency. This presentation will talk about current decision-making tools, energy modeling software, innovative procurement process, and case studies that can help guide building owners and managers make better decisions about energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Rois Langner has worked as a mechanical engineer in the Commercial Buildings Research Group at NREL since 2010. Her research efforts have focused on building energy efficiency projects that utilize EnergyPlus and OpenStudio software to analyze and optimize building design and performance for military and large commercial buildings. She has also worked with organizations to develop, implement, and maintain energy management policies and systems for continual energy improvement, and more recently is working to support the small commercial building sector in improving building performance.

Managing moisture in low-load homes

Jason Woods,  Senior Research Engineer, National Renewable Energy Laboratories, Golden CO

Increasing the efficiency of a building through improved lighting, higher levels of insulation, or better windows will reduce a building’s sensible cooling requirement, resulting in significant energy savings. However, these improvements do not reduce the building’s latent/humidity load, and this can lead to potential moisture problems including damaged buildings and occupant discomfort. This presentation will discuss these moisture-related issues as they relate to both the building envelope and to the building’s HVAC system. While existing building design principles can be applied to the envelope, existing HVAC systems perform poorly at high humidity-load conditions. NREL has been developing and evaluating emerging HVAC technologies that use membrane and separation processes that can efficiently control sensible and latent cooling independently. This presentation will cover these technologies, how they work, and future research needs in this area.

Jason Woods received his BS from Purdue University in 2005 and a PhD from the University of Colorado in 2011, both in mechanical engineering. Jason has since worked as a research engineer in NREL’s Buildings and Thermal Systems Center. Jason’s expertise is in numerical modeling and experimental design for heat and mass transfer processes. Research interests include membrane-based HVAC processes, heat and mass transfer enhancements, liquid desiccant and absorption air conditioning technologies, novel thermal storage techniques, and moisture adsorption and transport in building materials. In 2012, he was part of a team that received an R&D 100 Award for a hybrid air conditioner combining liquid desiccants and evaporative cooling. In 2015, Jason received the NREL Rising Star Award, which is given to employees engaged with commercialization and tech transfer

Controlling Thermal Radiation for Large Scale Energy Applications

Xiaobo Yin Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder CO


Micro/nano-structured materials offer significantly new opportunities for high efficiency devices and systems for energy harvesting, conversion and storage. Fundamental understanding at the small scale enables us to design structures and materials with unprecedented performances. However, there is a tremendous gap between the proof-of-principle demonstration at small scale and the intrinsically large scale real-world thermal and energy systems. As one example, energy use for cooling and air conditioning is poised to increase dramatically over the next several decades driven by population, climate and economics. In this talk, I will give an overview on our research progress and, more specifically, present our recent development on thermal radiation control for large scale radiative cooling applications. We demonstrated the scalable manufactured micro-optical composite with extreme light-material interaction provides a 24/7 continuous cooling power of 110 W/m2 without consuming electricity or water.

Dr. Xiaobo Yin received his PhD from Stanford University in 2008 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research focuses on radiative heat transfer, high temperature materials, and scalable manufacturing. He authored and co-authored more than 60 journal publications with 1,800 citations annually. His works have been featured on numerous media outlets including Physics Today, Scientific American, the Economists, and Forbes.


Introduction to Vacuum Technology

J.R. Gaines, Kurt J. Lesker Company

This class is designed to introduce the student to basic concepts in vacuum technology. Subjects covered include the ideal gas law, molecular flow in various vacuum regimes, characteristics of gas composition at various molecular densities, general principles of gas-solid interactions, vacuum pump technology and the impact of fundamental design decisions and operating practices on vacuum system performance. It is intended for people who are new to vacuum or may not have any formal training. The student should achieve a general understanding of vacuum technology as a foundation for further training in vacuum system design and thin film deposition. This course also includes several short quizzes to better enable the learning process. Students who attend the class can receive a personalized certificate of attendance signed by the course instructor.

LESKER TutorialSpecific topics include:

  1. Technical resources for vacuum technology
  2. Pressure and molecular density
  3. Adsorption, Desorption, Diffusion and Permeation
  4. Gas–Solid Interactions
  5. Flow Regimes
  6. Conductance
  7. Vacuum Pump Technologies, Pumping Speed and Pump Throughput
  8. Detecting leaks in vacuum systems
  9. Seals for vacuum systems
  10. Gas Load
  11. Outgassing
  12. Surface finishes for vacuum applications
  13. Calculations of ultimate base pressure of a vacuum system


General Schedule

7:45 AM

Registration begins


Oral Technical Sessions: Tiny House – Big Science – Innovations in Building Technology

10:00 AM

Vendor Exhibit opens


Free Lunch in the Exhibit Area


Oral Session continued

3:30 PM

Poster Session opens


Vendor Exhibit and Student Poster Session


Authors will be present from 4:00 PM to 5:15 PM

5:30 PM

Student Poster Winners announced