Using Sound to Detect Air Infiltration in Buildings

by Alison Kibe

Since 2013, the US Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) has been funding research at the Argonne National Laboratory and the Illinois Institute of Technology to develop technology that uses sound to detect and quantify air infiltration in homes and buildings. If you imagine that it is the dead of winter and you’re staring at a hole on the side of your home, the chance you decide that something ought to be done about it is probably high. Air infiltration caused by air leaks and poor insulation is a problem that can reduce the building efficiency and as a result raise heating and cooling bills. What many people don’t realize is that all of the small gaps in windows, walls, and doors can add up to a sizable opening. Given their small size, they may go unnoticed unless tested for.

Finding points of air infiltration and quantifying their effect currently relies on pressure tests and visual inspections. The most common of these methods is the blower door test. Essentially, this test takes a large fan and measures airflow through a building. The fan equipment itself is expensive and while it can quantify air infiltration, the method cannot pinpoint where air leaks are within the building. Methods like the tracer gas method can find exactly where infiltration occurs, but are not quantitative. The aim of the new system, called the Acoustic Building Infiltration Measurement System (ABIMS), is to create a single measurement system to replace the blower door and tracer gas tests that can be used on buildings of all sizes and at varying stages of construction.

As of 2012, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) requires new buildings be subject to pressure tests with the goal of limiting infiltration. ABIMS could make it easier to find how to best limit infiltration and, because it should be easier to use, allow for the creation of better code and higher rates of compliance. Following air infiltration codes will mean less heat loss or infiltration and translate into lower energy usage and greater cost savings. In addition, because reducing infiltration also stabilizes air pressure within the building, HVAC systems that use pressure to work effectively will also be able to work more efficiently.

The idea of creating a better system is compelling for reasons outside of energy use as well. According to the Whole Building Design Guide, a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences, air infiltration is also important to hospitals thinking about the spread of airborne diseases and to buildings areas facing severe air pollution. With this in mind and considering the potential changes in ease of use and cost feasibility, a system like ABIMS could make important and better contributions to building design decisions.

United States Department of Energy, 2011. Air Leakage Guide. Building Energy Codes Program.

United States Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2014. Acoustic Building Infiltration Measurement System. Energy.Gov, accessed February 7th, 2015. http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/downloads/acoustic-building-infiltration-measurement-system-abims

United States Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 2014. 2014 BTO Peer Review Presentation – Acoustic Building Infiltration Measurement System.

Anis, W., 2014. Air Barrier Systems in Buildings. Whole Building Design Guide. http://www.wbdg.org/resources/airbarriers.php

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