Building innovations from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will be on display in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall June 7 to June 9, 2024, during the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s, or HUD’s,  Innovation Housing Showcase

Green, two-story house is being assembled with the help of a yellow crane.
The Structural Building Components Association’s two-story duplex was assembled with ORNL’s real-time building evaluator tool. The building and tool will be on display during the Innovation Housing Showcase on the National Mall. Credit: Diana Hun/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

For the first time, ORNL’s real-time building evaluator was demonstrated outside of a laboratory setting and deployed for building construction. Researchers collaborated with the Structural Building Components Association, or SBCA, to demonstrate how such technology can speed up construction by assisting in their build of a two-story duplex with prefabricated components on the National Mall June 3, prior to the official start of the event. The duplex is planned to be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

“This event provides an exciting opportunity to showcase building envelope achievements,” said ORNL’s Diana Hun, Building Envelope Materials Research group leader. “We appreciate the opportunity to help SBCA successfully construct their building by using our real-time evaluator to speed the construction pace by providing accurate measurements for precise installation.”

The real-time building evaluator tool gives workers and crane operators precise measurements and positioning directions for installing prefabricated components. This tool aims to decrease installation time and cost by more than 25%. Researchers developed algorithms to compare the location of the components during installation with a digital twin or virtual model. An autonomous robotic tracker coupled with advanced software generates real-time positioning data for installers to minimize errors and expedite installation.

A man and a woman, left, are watching a man, right, hold up building material samples, such as a brick wall square to indicate alignment.
ORNL’s real-time evaluator tool, shown as demonstrated in the laboratory, was used onsite to install prefabricated panels on a two-story duplex on the National Mall. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy


Researchers will also conduct live demonstrations of several ORNL-developed building technologies including the autonomous spray foam robot and building air leak and microwave moisture detectors:

  • The autonomous spray foam robot, developed in collaboration with ORNL researchers in advanced manufacturing, installs insulation foam in walls. This invention uses software and hardware that enables a 20% decrease in overall installed spray foam cost and a 10% increase in the yield of installed foam with consistent quality and thermal performance, and limits installers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals. 
  • The building air leak detector uses off-the-shelf cameras to quickly visualize air leaks, or drafts, through walls and roofs. The detection is based on background-oriented schlieren photography, a process used to capture fluid flow. The non-invasive technique uses small shifts in the background of a sequence of images to visualize leaking air that has a different temperature than the surrounding air. This temperature difference creates a mirage when viewed in front of a building’s façade using refractive imaging. The air leak detector also has an ORNL-developed phone application component, which allows homeowners with a camera phone to quickly pinpoint and fix air leaks. The phone application will also be demonstrated during the Innovation Housing Showcase. 
  • The microwave moisture detector measures the moisture content of wood using microwave radar. ORNL designed the tool to enable a non-destructive and convenient way to detect and measure moisture of materials inside the building envelope without having to remove the cladding. This enables faster evaluation of existing building envelopes before they are retrofitted and more accurate cost estimates for retrofits.