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Building Science Terminology

by / Friday, 12 June 2015 / Published in Green Building Consulting
building science terminology

Building Science Terminology

This blog shares recommended terminology from the US DOE. We are considering terminology and frequently used words and phrases in this blog, not definitions of building science terms. Building science terminology is sophisticated and can be confusing, but I’m not sure that the DOE’s recent efforts will help the industry.

Building America - Building Science Terms

According to the DOE website, “in February 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy convened a group of leading building science stakeholders involved in the Zero Energy Ready Home and Building America programs to discuss the use of technical terminology in the housing industry. The discussion centered on the need to recognize and more effectively communicate the value associated with the lower cost of ownership, greater comfort, improved health, ensured combustion safety, and increased durability of high-performance homes. As a result of this meeting, DOE created the Building Science Translator.  The Building Science Translator provides a glossary of ‘power words’ for use across the industry.  The goal of using ‘power words’ is to consistently reinforce the value message of high-performance homes based on the consumer experience rather than the engineering function of home systems.”

Zero Energy Ready

A taste of US DOE Building Science Terms:

HVAC Systems and Components:

  • HVAC System = “Comfort System”
  • HVAC Equipment = “Comfort Equipment”
  • HVAC Ducts = “Comfort Delivery System” [analogy: lungs of home]
  • HVAC terminals = “Comfort Outlets”
  • HVAC pressure balancing = “Comfort Balancing”
  • HVAC transfer grill or jump duct = “Comfort Vent”
  • HVAC thermostat = “Comfort Control”

So are all you professions out there ready to start calling a thermostat a “comfort control?”  If you thought think that sounds silly, check out the following tables provided in the DOE publication.

Building Science Terms for High Performance Building Enclosures:

Building Science Terminology - High Performance Building Enlcosure

You needed your reading glasses, but you read that right:

  • Sealed and Flashed Window = “Professionally Installed Window”
  • Quality Insulation Installation = “Premium-Installed Insulation”
  • Fully Aligned Air Barrier = “Whole-House Draft Barrier”

Building Science Terms for Indoor Environmental Systems:

Building Science Terminology - Indoor Envioronmental System 1Building Science Terminology - Indoor Environmental System 2

Highlights, or lowlights?

  • Sealed Construction = “Bug Resistent Home Sealing”
  • Termite Shield = “Termite Detection System”
  • Bathroom Exhaust Fan = “Bathroom Odor & Moisture Control Fan”
  • Filtration = High-Capture Filtration Technology”

I’m not convinced that this new effort to dumb down existing building science jargon and terms into a new “user friendly lexicon” is a good idea. It may further complicate the efforts of building scientists, industrial hygienists, building enclosure commissioning agents, architects, engineers, and design-build contractors. It has taken decades and much hard work to educate the design-build industry on building science principals and definitions. I hope that ultimately the “new and improved terms” will do more harm than good… in which case I’ll begrudgingly let go of the more scientific and historically accurate building science terminology it took me years to grasp.


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