Smarter walls are being built today
As part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Building America program (www.buildingamerica.gov), our team focuses on the future of housing. Our target is an affordable "net-zero" house (one that produces as much energy as it consumes) built by production builders at no extra cost. Our target date is 2020, but I think that we can do it sooner.
To accomplish the goal of an affordable net-zero house, we have focused mostly on the enclosure. The enclosure of the future will be a lot like today's best enclosures, which use foam sheathings, housewraps, and spray insulations. But the materials of the future will be smarter (more on that later), and framing redundancies will be gone.
The easy part of our job is figuring out how builders should be framing houses (see our interactive graphic). Thirty years ago, the NAHB Research Center developed optimumvalue engineering (OVE) to cut the cost of houses by omitting unnecessary lumber. OVE framing increases joist, stud, and rafter spacing to 24 in.; places doors and windows on stud layout; and demands that framing members be lined up (or stacked) for direct load transfer. Coupled with better insulation detailing, those same smart-framing strategies also can reduce the cost of heating and cooling houses.
"OVE"; www.buildingscience.com, search "case study" and "shear panel."