US Department of Energy

Building America Research Teams: BA-PIRC and IBACOS—Pioneers in Homebuilding Innovation


Source: US Department of Energy

This article continues our series of profiles about the Building America research teams—multidisciplinary industry partnerships that work to make high performance homes a reality for all Americans. This month’s article focuses on two long-standing Building America teams—Building America Partnership for Improved Residential Construction (BA-PIRC) and IBACOS—who are national leaders in innovative homebuilding practices.


Since 1995, the BA-PIRC team has delivered market-ready energy solutions to the U.S. building industry, leading one builder partner to describe BA-PIRC as “the best possible example of what research universities and businesses can do together to help consumers and grow the economy.” Led by the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) at the University of Central Florida, BA-PIRC applies practical research expertise to develop real-world solutions for industry, utility partners, and housing manufacturers that achieve significant energy and cost savings in new and existing homes. With access to several research facilities—the Manufactured Housing Laboratory, Hot Water Systems Laboratory, and Flexible Research Test Facility— BA-PIRC works with industry partners to design, test, and monitor energy efficiency, indoor air quality (IAQ), and building durability strategies. View a list of research partners.

A testament to the team’s commitment to affordable high performance homes is its long-term collaboration with Habitat for Humanity (HFH). Since 1993, FSEC worked with 50+ HFH affiliates in 20+ states, incorporating Building America research principles into the design, construction, and evaluation of countless homes. The resulting practical guidance for energy efficiency, IAQ, and moisture management has helped to transform the way HFH builds homes, including adoption of ENERGY STAR® for Homes as a best practice for all U.S. affiliates. Now, more than 65% of new HFH homes meet or surpass ENERGY STAR criteria. For this effort, the team won a Building America Top Innovation award, and Housing Innovation Awards for the 18-home Manatee County Hope Landing development and a Southeast Volusia County Vista Palm home. Other long-term partners are production builders Tommy Williams Homes and LifeStyle Homes, which adopted high performance home standards and tout the business case for zero energy ready homes; support of these builders earned BA-PIRC another Top Innovation award. Retrofit projects target low-income housing and include developing retrofit best practices from 46 deep energy retrofits of foreclosed homes in Florida; exploring community-scale retrofits in a pilot project with Florida Power & Light; analyzing energy-saving measures for a public housing project in Washington; and implementing 43% energy savings in older multifamily buildings in Maryland.

At FSEC’s research facilities, the team studies advanced energy efficiency technologies under controlled conditions, including analysis of water heating and variable capacity space conditioning systems, and impact of infiltration and ventilation on energy and indoor humidity. Field research with builders led to a Building America measure guideline and two construction innovations for duct systems in the conditioned space: simplified fur-down chase and raised ceiling approaches. Early BA-PIRC projects provided energy solutions such as duct testing; heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) design, material selection, and air and moisture barrier placement for manufactured housing producers. The High Performance Manufactured Home project continues work in that market segment. The team garnered a third Top Innovation award for a standardized testing method for HVAC air handlers and furnace cabinets. Eric Martin, BA-PIRC program director, sums up the team’s impact, “Throughout my years of involvement in the Building America program, I have been pleased to be part of what I believe to be truly transformational research. This is not simply a demonstration effort. This is the kind of research that transforms the way the housing industry conducts business, and it is so successful that it transforms entire housing markets.” For more information, visit the BA-PIRC website.


IBACOS focuses on collaborative innovation in the building industry. A Building America team lead since 1993, IBACOS works with leading builders, manufacturers, and government agencies to enable the design, construction, and delivery of high performance homes that respond to the needs of the consumer and the builder, and reduce residential building energy demand. IBACOS’ distinct network of leading builders and key stakeholders—the Best Practices Research Alliance—provides the awareness, relationships, and tools to accelerate market transformation toward higher levels of home energy performance and to develop meaningful innovations that will add sustained value to homes.

In collaboration with builder partners, IBACOS emphasizes systems-integrated thinking, design, and feedback to identify solutions that builders can implement on a community scale. With a partner list of more than 50 leading national and regional residential builders, IBACOS has influenced the construction of 400,000 new homes. A long-term partnership with Imagine Homes resulted in hundreds of high performance homes, each of which achieved annual energy cost savings of more than $2,000. IBACOS’ technical support of Insight Homes demonstrated successful energy efficiency measures and maintained a sales price equal to comparably sized homes. Production homebuilder S&A Homes used the team’s “ducts in conditioned space” approach as part of a high performance package for new homes that helped revitalize a distressed Pittsburgh neighborhood. IBACOS partnered with Pulte Homes to integrate efficiency measures with solar energy systems to reduce energy use by 50% for a community of 1,000 homes, which earned the team another Top Innovation award. The team’s earlier work with EQA Landmark Communities and Kacin Homes transformed a former industrial site in Pittsburgh into a 700-home community of energy-efficient, healthy homes. These lessons learned have been translated to other Brownfield site developments in the Pittsburgh area.

IBACOS’s pioneering research into the relationship between an advanced thermal enclosure, an air distribution system, and occupant comfort addresses the importance of incorporating HVAC system layout early in the home’s design process. After years of development and testing, IBACOS wrote a Building America guideline about compact air distribution system design. This Top Innovation award-winning guideline is considered a building block for the industry, and is generating success in new homes across the country. IBACOS’ research into high-efficiency tankless water heaters led to another Top Innovation award; this technology has been integrated into multiple test houses and communities. The team garnered a third Top Innovation award for a standardized method for testing the air leakage of HVAC air handlers and furnace cabinets, which led to the creation of ASHRAE Standard 193. Other areas of industry research include stucco wall-cladding systems, air sealing mechanical closets, high performance residential lighting, closing and conditioning ventilated crawlspaces, and standoff furring for exterior wall insulation. What’s more, IBACOS establishes business success metrics that support builders as they shift from conventional to high performance homes. The team was recognized with a Top Innovation award for developing a quality management tool tailored for the high performance homebuilding industry. According to Mark Tilley, IBACOS chief executive officer, “The central IBACOS focus has always been on understanding the process of innovation in the homebuilding industry and partnering with leading industry stakeholders. We have always recognized and valued the important role of the DOE Building America program in helping to enable important advancements within the industry.”

See the Building America Research Team page to view information about other teams.

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