Researchers Developing Building 'Skin' that Regulates Internal Temperatures

Originally published by: Green Building ElementsOctober 3, 2014

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Building skin cools buildingImagine a building that self-regulates its temperature without electronics. A building that adapts, allowing outside air in as needed and eliminating the need for air conditioning, but that uses no energy in doing so.  A University of California-Berkley research team has developed a new type of “building skin” that can do just that, and they are offering their skin as a low-cost option specifically for developing countries.

The team developed SABER, a membrane that wraps around a building instead of walls, filled with micro-scale valves and lenses that open and close as they sense light, heat, and humidity.  It works with no power at all – not even solar PV panels – and keeps the temperature comfortable and light bright inside.

“It began with the aim of being a skin that can breathe, similar to our skin, that can open and close its pores, to regulate the temperature, humidity, and light conditions,” says architect Maria-Paz Gutierrez, a member of the BIOMS research team … we focus more on technologies that are applicable for developing nations because that’s where the big thrust of innovation in construction takes place,” Gutierrez says.  “We’re looking at tropical regions, since that’s where you have the largest population that requires strategies that are low cost.”

The skin doesn’t actually cool a building.  It makes the inside more comfortable by increasing the air ventilation rate, allowing for more evaporation of moisture on occupants’ skin, making them feel cooler.

SABER says its energy-efficient building skin system is scalable to any size, from a low-cost shelter to huge stadiums, and it doesn’t use any energy to operate.  The team has successfully created a prototype material with the skin embedded in it, and is working on other low-cost materials.

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