Optimizing PCM-Integrated Walls for Potential Energy Savings in U.S. Buildings

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110 Scopus Citations


Buildings in the United States account for nearly half of total U.S. energy use. The energy used for space conditioning can be reduced by utilizing thermal energy storage, such as phase change materials (PCMs), into building envelopes; however, the energy savings of PCM-integrated building envelopes reported in the literature vary widely. In the absence of established guidelines, thermophysical requirements of an optimal PCM, its method of application into the building envelope, and the corresponding energy savings under various climates remain unknown. In this study, we perform an extensive numerical investigation on the integration of PCM into building walls to establish the key conditions required for effective utilization of PCM in reducing heat gains in the cooling season and heat losses in the heating season. We also determine the optimal transition temperature, optimal PCM location in the wall, and the energy-saving potential of the PCM-integrated building walls in five U.S. cities located in different International Energy Conservation Code climate zones. Results show that employing PCMs in building walls does not always lead to an improvement; in fact, incorrect applications of PCMs can substantially increase energy use in the buildings. In the climates we studied, PCMs were found effective in reducing heat gains during the cooling season while mostly ineffective in managing heat losses during heating season. Depending on the climate, optimized PCMs in U.S. building walls can provide reduction in the annual heat gain in the range of 3.5%–47.2% and the annual heat loss in the range of −2.8%–8.3%. Future consideration of buildings with substantial solar gains in winter may lead to more reduction in heat losses by PCMs.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number110355
Number of pages14
JournalEnergy and Buildings
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier B.V.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-75557


  • Cooling
  • Energy savings
  • Energy use
  • Envelope
  • Heating
  • HVAC
  • Optimization
  • Phase change materials


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