Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Design Intelligence for Energy Performance Optimization in a Single Family Home (ST10373-1)

Syracuse University


Residential and commercial buildings consume close to 40% of total energy use, 70% of electricity, 40% of raw materials and 12% of fresh water supply, and 80% of residential energy is used in single family homes, vs. 20% used in multi-family homes. Conventional design methods for residences do not promote sustain ability. Conventional methods lead to increased landfill waste and contribute to high energy consumption. A new method of design and a new process of implementation is proposed to present a paradigm shift in this design process to positively impact the residential construction and site design. The paradigm shift could lead to designs that are suitable to the climate, fit within financial constraints, and achieve the highest possible environmental performance.

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Project Description

A research team of architects, engineers, builders, and renewable resource professionals will assemble to address, construct, and test a model "market rate" ($175,000) single family residence to be located in Central New York State. The goal is to employ an extensive design process employing design intelligence, to a modest sized/priced home that normally would not have this exposure. From this process the project staff will learn and record details to be integrated into an alternative design intelligence model for promoting and practicing this learning into future design projects; hopefully creating and raising awareness towards a paradigm shift into the process of new construction for modest and reasonable homes.


The successful project will demonstrate design methods and alternatives that reduce construction waste, minimize energy consumption, and maximize the use of natural resources of a site. Results will provide an alternative to the conventional suburban home that continues to proliferate across the landscape, which overlooks practical use of resources. The “slope” house design provided for and realized the best energy performance and price of all the design scenarios examined, to satisfy the project’s objective. Performance modeling done by the architect team indicates that thermal envelope and proper orientation has direct impact on a 37% improvement to energy performance. Focusing on passive strategies and modest size leads to the greatest impact on the performance of the home, while also keeping the costs reasonable, on a $/ft2 basis.

Project Results

A single house was designed that incorporated the needs of the occupants in addition to accounting for available soil on site, water use, vegetation, and wildlife habitat. The proposed design examined modular vs. pre-cast vs. SIP wall construction, mechanical analysis comparison between radiant in-floor to forced air heating, and passive solar including day lighting. Fully valued cost of construction to build this, including Contractor’s profit and overhead, was priced at $252,000. Achieving an aggressive “passive” strategy for the house was in conflict with conventional architectural design vs. performance studies. Escaping the standard operating procedure of estimating cost only when a complete set of decisions is complete, was accomplished. The designed “slope” house can provide for a 50% energy reduction and achieve a HERS score of 90.2. Between 2004 and 2007, only 7 of 1,007 homes constructed in Onondaga County achieved HERS above 90 and consisted of a 4,000 ft2 average footprint. The 1,580 ft2 “slope” house, and its average cost, provides an alternative, sustainable model for the single family home. Promotion of further tightening the building envelope and increasing the thermal resistance had the greatest effect on cutting the overall energy consumption significantly, ~37%. Effective wall strategies of 2x6 framing were tested but only performed slightly better than 2x4 framing accompanied with 2” of extruded polystyrene added to the exterior.


Syracuse University
727 East Washington St. Attn: Tamara Rosanio
Syracuse, NY 13244

Principle Investigator

Ted Brown

Universities Involved


Project Type:

Research Study

Technologies Types:

Building Systems
Building Construction Methods

NYSERDA Contact Information

Gregory Pedrick


R&D -Transport & Power Systems

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST10373-1

Last Updated: 2/27/2012