Vital Signs

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Resource Packages

This page provides a quick summary of the Resource Packages created by the Vital Signs Project. A Resource Package is a 40 to 60 page document that addresses a single building performance issue. Each package covers relevant primary physical principles, a description of how the topic affects design decision making, a discussion of applicable standards and practices, an annotated bibliography, and a set of field exercises.

Complete sets of these Resource Packages were distributed to all schools of architecture in the United States and Canada in May 1996. If you would like to find out who at your school received these packages, email Cris Benton, the Vital Signs Project Director, at

Below each of the following descriptions, you will find one or more buttons. By clicking on these buttons, you can download a portable document format (PDF) version of that Resource Package. PDF files are electronic versions of documents that are identical to paper copies, and that can be used by any computer platform.

If two versions of a Resource Package are provided, one has low quality images, and a smaller file size, while the other has high quality images and a larger file size. Choose the smaller file if you want to browse the document, and choose the larger file if you need to print it. If only one PDF file is listed, there was not a large difference between the two file sizes, so only the high-quality file is provided.

You will need the Adobe Acrobat viewer to read these documents. If you need a copy, it is available for all computer platforms from Adobe for free.

Building Balance Point is a new Resource Package that has just been completed. It was not distributed with the original 9 RPs, but is now available in its complete form as PDF files from this website.

Building Balance Point
Michael Utzinger and James H. Wasley
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

This resource package explores the thermal life of buildings in a holistic sense; with concepts and exercises that illustrate the interrelation of internal heat production and building envelope performance, the thermal demands of the occupants and the climate outside. It begins by introducing balance point temperature concepts as they relate to architectural design and to the design process, including the relationship of balance point concepts to building codes and their increasing reliance on energy modeling programs. The protocols present methods for estimating the balance temperature in the field at two levels of sophistication.

The Level I protocol introduces a method of estimating the balance point and characterizing the dominant building energy flows from a single day field trip to the site. This protocol and its discussion of principles are designed to lead the student toward a conceptual understanding of building energy flows based on visual observation. It is directed toward introductory level course work.

The Level II protocol concludes the discussion of the theoretical relationships defining dynamic energy flow in buildings. It is directed toward advanced graduate students with an interest in exploring the relationship between the theory underlying energy dynamics in buildings and its validation through experiment.

Building Balance Point (2,305k--low quality images).
Building Balance Point (4,342k--high quality images).

Whole Building Energy Use: Simulation and Prediction for Retrofits
Larry O. Degelman and Veronica I. Soebarto
Texas A&M University

This Resource Package covers concepts and methods to predict whole building energy performance using an energy simulation model and on-site measurements. The purpose of these analyses is to support understanding of retrofit design strategies for existing commercial buildings. As part of the field components of this package students investigate, measure, and record the building’s geometric features and energy parameters - such as HVAC zoning, thermostat setbacks, ventilation and occupancy profiles and lighting density and schedules.

Whole Building Energy Performance--Simulation and Prediction for Retrofits (1,564k--high quality images).

HVAC Components and Systems
Walter Grondzik and Richard Furst
Florida A&M University

An understanding of HVAC systems by design students is important for four reasons: 1) Such systems require substantial floor space and building volume that must be accommodated during the design process; 2) HVAC systems constitute a major budget item for many common building types; 3)HVAC systems are directly related to occupant thermal comfort and good indoor air quality; and 4) Maintaining appropriate thermal conditions through HVAC system operation is a major driver of building energy consumption. The field component of this package utilizes a number of different techniques. Examples include observation, comparison of drawings with as-built conditions in the field, and analysis of information acquired on-site using data loggers and through utility billing data and energy management system reports. The package provides exposure to the characteristics of HVAC systems in operation and leads students to consider these systems from the perspective of energy consumption.

HVAC Components and Systems (2,582k--low quality images).
HVAC Components and Systems (7,067k--high quality images).

HVAC Components and Systems - Florida A&M has turned the HVAC Resource Package into an online web site. It contains the complete text of the RP as well as hyperlinks throughout.

Thermal Mass in Passive Solar and Energy Conserving Buildings
Bruce Haglund and Kurt Rathmann
University of Idaho

Thermal mass can play a constructive role in building thermal performance. It can also have less desirable effects. This Resource Package provides a series of exercises that identify the thermally massive elements of a building, track their influence on surrounding architectural space, and examine patterns of performance over time.

Thermal Mass in Passive Solar and Energy Conserving Buildings (1,029k--low quality images).

Thermal Mass in Passive Solar and Energy Conserving Buildings (2,173k--high quality images).

Observing Air Flow in Buildings
Dean Heerwagen
University of Washington

Most students have little experience in measuring air flow or in identifying locations within buildings where air flow and air exchange occur. This Resource Package describes techniques for observing air flow and air exchange in buildings. The study of air motion will most likely occur in search of information about a ‘larger’ building quality or performance issue, such as passive cooling, indoor air quality, or heat transfer through a building envelope. The student exercises in this package are designed to be carried out independently, but can be used to address these ‘larger’ building performance questions as well.

The PDF version of this resource package is large. For manageability, we broke it into three parts in the following manner. Download all three for a complete version of the package.

Part 1: Observing Air Flow in Buildings (1 of 3; 8,610k)
Part 2: Observing Air Flow in Buildings (2 of 3; 2,201k)
Part 3: Observing Air Flow in Buildings (3 of 3; 5,926k)

The Dynamic Pattern of Shading and Solar Heat Gain Through Windows
Scott A. Johnston
Miami University

Architecture students must gain an appreciation for the many factors that influence the amount of sunlight a window receives, sunlight that is subsequently transmitted through the window to the building interior. This Resource Package provides a conceptual overview of the variables involved in the calculation of window solar heat gains, along with student field exercises for the analysis and monitoring of actual buildings. The exercises compare the results of simple sun study models with on-site observations and occupant interviews to better understand how window solar gains affect the comfort level in a space. Other exercises involve the computer simulation of clear day solar heat gains for an actual window. The degree of correspondence between simulated and measured solar gains is then studied with particular attention to understanding the causes for differences observed. This provides students with an understanding of the real world variability inherent in computer model input parameters and the degree of uncertainty associated with simulation results.

The Dynamic Pattern of Shading and Solar Heat Gain Through Windows (2,877k--high quality images).

Health in the Built Environment: Indoor Air Quality
Tang G. Lee, Denise De Baisio and Antonio Santini
University of Calgary

This Resource Package introduces students to the problems associated with poor indoor environments, particularly inadequate indoor air quality. It provides students with a fundamental knowledge of the causes and effects of building related illnesses. Field exercises progress from simple observation and interview techniques to the measurement of carbon monoxide, ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using handheld equipment and monitoring badges, and finally to air sampling techniques that require laboratory analysis. The exercises enable students to develop the skills required to examine particular problems associated with poor indoor air quality and to identify their causes and possible mitigation strategies. The resource package encourages students to utilize design and planning practices that maximize occupant health and well being.

Health in the Built Environment: Indoor Air Quality
(2,930k--high quality images).

Taking a Building’s Temperature:
Measurement and Display of Thermal Performance of Buildings

Murray Milne
University of California, Los Angeles

This Resource Package helps architecture students directly experience how design decisions influence the thermal behavior of buildings. Using computer software available from the author, students see the magnitude of the impact each separate element has on the building’s overall performance, leading to a better intuitive understanding of the dynamics of heat gain and loss. Using climatological data recorded at an existing building, students can refine the computer model description of a space until it accurately reproduces the site recorded indoor air temperatures. The computer model graphically displays how an existing building room or space performs over an extended period of time. Students can then use the model to test design alternatives.

Taking a Building's Temperature (680k--low quality images).
Taking a Building's Temperature (940k--high quality images).

The software used in this resource package is available for download at the Energy Design Tools page at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Interior Illuminance, Daylight Controls and Occupant Response
Marc E. Schiler and Shweta A. Japee
University of Southern California

Architecture students need an understanding of the physical concepts underlying light, its behavior, and its perception by the eye. This Resource Package offers discussions of both illuminance and luminance, and covers the complex relationship of reflection, brightness, contrast and glare. It includes a broad range of field exercises involving observation, interview, a variety of data collection tools and computer simulation. The importance of high quality lighting, including daylighting, to good indoor environmental quality is stressed throughout the resource package.
Interior Illuminance, Daylight Controls, and Occupant Response
(1,242k--low quality images).
Interior Illuminance, Daylight Controls, and Occupant Response
(3,283k--high quality images).

Glazing Performance
James H. Wasley and Michael Utzinger
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee

This Resource Package describes the interrelationships of design issues that pertain to the use of various types of glazing, particularly issues affecting the thermal and luminous environments of buildings. It identifies the general types of glazings found in use and discusses their thermal and luminous performance characteristics. It seeks to instill in students the ability to specify glazing with an eye towards optimizing these characteristics. The exercises for field investigation promote both an intuitive and scientific understanding of glazing materials, relating the choice of glazing material to the design of the building as a whole. Also included in this package are two computer modeling exercises: one providing a general overview of the effects of glazing on energy flows in a building and the other modeling energy flows through specific glazing assemblies. These are meant to complement and extend the field protocols.

The PDF version of this resource package is large. For manageability, we broke it into five parts in the following manner. Download all five for a complete version of the package.

Part 1: Cover, Introduction, Discussion of Principles (28 pages / 3,400k)
Part 2: Glazing and Architectural Design (6 pages / 3,900k)
Part 3: Codes & Standards, Annotated Bibliography, Summary of Protocols, Start of Level One Protocols (19 pages / 2,200k)
Part 4: Continuation of Level One Protocols (7 pages / 3,400k)
Part 5: Level Two and Three Protocols, Appendices (36 Pages / 2,000k)

Comments to author: vitalsigns@

All contents copyright (C) 1998. Vital Signs Project. All rights reserved.

Created: 07/06/96
Revised: 09/09/02