Tool takes PULSE of airtightness

The University of Nottingham in England has developed a test for measuring the airtightness of buildings to help eliminate drafts, improve energy efficiency and reduce heating bills.

The PULSE test helps establish and minimize the infiltration rate of cold air into buildings and the loss of heated air out through gaps, holes and cracks in the building fabric, according to a release from the university.

Testing also illustrates whether the building is too “tight,” as too little ventilation can lead to poor indoor air quality, which in turn can cause adverse health effects for occupants.

The PULSE test has been extensively researched and developed by the University of Nottingham over 14 years and is now being commercialized with industry partners.

Dr. Ed Cooper, lead developer of the PULSE test, from the university’s Department of Architecture and Built Environment, said, “The gap between design and performance of airtightness in buildings can at best cause discomfort for occupants and at worst create significant energy wastage and health problems.

"The new test, which is quick and easy to operate, could help mitigate these problems by enabling tests that can be conducted by anyone with minimal training. It could have a big impact on improving the performance of buildings."

The PULSE test releases a short burst of air that creates a low pressure pulse throughout the whole test building, which can be used to measure the flow through leakage pathways and hence the airtightness of the building.

The latest version of the PULSE test comprises a composite compressed air tank and control box mounted on a compact and portable trolley that can be wheeled into a building for testing. The test takes only a few seconds and causes minimal disruption to construction work or building occupants.

The current industry-standard “blower door” technique requires sealing off an external doorway with a fan and blowing air in or out to create a high pressure difference between the inside and outside, which is not representative of normal use.

The blower door, which has been used since the late 1970s, typically takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete, requires a trained operative and as such is usually only used at completion stage, when it is often too late or difficult to carry out full remediation.

Recent studies in the UK have shown large discrepancies between different blower door operatives testing the same buildings, leading to concerns over reliability.

The PULSE technique is quick and easy enough for construction workers to perform themselves multiple times prior to completion, saving time and test costs later.

The PULSE testing unit is self-contained and has no need to penetrate the building fabric or block up any doorways.

The results are calculated inside the PULSE unit, which has a user-friendly graphical interface for analysis, and could have the potential to automatically upload to the Internet, removing any potential for results to be doctored.

The test also offers accurate and repeatable results by measuring at typical infiltration pressures and accounting for changes in background pressure levels caused by the wind or outside temperature.

Working alongside 20 partners in eight countries, such as the Passivhaus Institute, Lakehouse, BSRIA, VRM Technology, OHL, Nobatek and TNO, the PULSE will be developed for integration into the Built2Spec Virtual Construction Management Platform to help reduce the gap between design and performance of buildings.

Topics: Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Energy Audit / Energy Management, Energy Recovery & Heat Recovery Ventilation, Energy Saving Products, Moisture and Vapor Management, Passive House / Passivhaus, Sustainable Communities, Technology, Thermal Envelope - Building Envelope, Urban Planning and Design, Ventilation, Weatherization

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