Dynamic building envelope design

Volume 19, Number 1

A room-sized steel girder frame open at the top to allow for roofing tests

Dynamic roof uplift facility for durability evaluation of roof-mounted PV

Research and development efforts in the last decades have led to advances in energy efficiency and airtightness of the building envelope. The new industry-led research and technology program recently announced by NRC is aiming to achieve even greater energy cost savings for commercial and institutional buildings. This will be done through integrated building envelope systems, specifically by combining durable wall and roof components into a dynamic system that produces more energy than it loses.

Building owners are interested in technologies that will not only reduce heating and cooling costs, but will enable the collection of energy that can be sold to the smart grid, further increasing their return on investment.

This research and technology thrust will give Canadian industry access to NRC’s world-class and multi-disciplinary expertise on materials and building envelope systems, building simulation and modeling tools, and building envelope validation facilities. Collaborators will gain the support they need to achieve technology advances, to significantly shorten product development cycles, and to improve product differentiation in the marketplace.

These R&D efforts and services will help our collaborators promote rapid uptake of the resulting new technologies through showcase demonstrations that validate energy performance and cost effectiveness.

NRC is seeking research collaborators to participate in development, improvement, and/or commercialization of their building envelope technologies that will:

  • significantly increase the thermal resistance and airtightness of roof and wall systems;
  • enhance the control of solar loads in walls and roofs; and
  • improve the capacity for harvesting solar energy.

Thermal resistance and airtightness

Our industry-led research and technology projects target improvements in thermal resistance and airtightness. Responding to a need of building manufacturers, NRC researchers seek performance improvements of insulation and glazing technologies, and a breakthrough in metal-glass curtain wall design that will double performance.

These projects and technical services also target improvements in thermal resistance, specifically the durability of high-performance building envelope systems with vacuum insulation panels (VIPs). These improvements will allow our collaborators to reduce manufacturing costs for their products—already known for their excellent energy performance—and will enable VIPs to be incorporated into wall and roof insulation systems at a reduced cost, without danger of damage to their vacuum seal. This, in turn, will encourage market uptake of VIPs, when their potential as a superior and cost-effective insulation system is realized.

Through glazing research project results, we will provide our collaborators with technical solutions that will enable insulating glass units to more effectively control solar and thermal loads. Such solutions include the incorporation of new long-life films that dynamically change light transmittance in response to a stimulus. Sunlight incident on the glazing can then be used to offset electric lighting and heating loads.

This research and technology will benefit manufacturers seeking technical expertise needed to incorporate advanced insulation and glazing products into the building envelope. It will also assist in the development of an improved mounting design for glazing units and metal-glass curtain walls. This enhancement will help resolve the thermal bridging and air leakage problems that can occur, allowing designers and contractors to integrate VIPs and dynamic glazing into a high-performance curtain wall with a thermal performance twice that of current systems.

Thermally efficient roofs that harvest energy

Roofs form a substantial part of the building envelope, particularly flat roofs in commercial buildings. Many of these have the potential to serve as a platform for harvesting energy. Building owners are looking at opportunities to realize this potential.

Working with collaborators, NRC researchers will help the roofing industry to enhance the durability and thermal performance of roofing materials and components, as well as assist in integrating photovoltaic membranes.

We will continue to work with manufacturers of roof-integrated photovoltaic membranes to advance energy-collecting technologies, while ensuring that the basic function of the roof is not compromised by their implementation. The goal is to enable our industry partners to develop roofing systems so thermally efficient that, when photovoltaic membranes are incorporated, the systems will generate significantly more energy than they lose.

NRC provides expertise and technical solutions on the dynamic building envelope, enabling our industry clients to develop and deploy feasible, cost-effective and low-risk technologies with proven performance our climatic regions. We provide expertise for rapid uptake in the marketplace, and will further develop partnerships with building owners, utilities and government agencies.


Dino Zuppa
Telephone: 613-949-0073
Email: Dino.Zuppa@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca