New MSU research effort seeks to ensure long life for new houses


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Posted: 9/18/2003


Ensuring that newly constructed homes have a chance to survive to a ripe old age is the goal of a recently established collaboration at Mississippi State.

A joint endeavor among several campus units, the university's new effort in Southern climatic housing research is providing an organized approach to developing, testing and transferring new housing technologies to prevent the premature failure of residential structures.

Funded by an initial $126,000 grant from the United States Forest Service, the program is part of that agency's Coalition for Advanced Housing and Forest Products Research Laboratory. It includes MSU faculty members in forest products, civil engineering, landscape architecture, and architecture.

The Forest Service is an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose advanced housing coalition brings together higher education institutions to focus on residential wood product and systems research in specific climates. In addition to Mississippi State and Iowa State universities, member schools include the universities of Arizona, Minnesota and North Dakota.

"Approximately 70,000 new houses are built each year in the South," said project coordinator Terry Amburgey. "The team will conduct research to determine designs, construction practices and building products best suited for the Southern climate.”

The effort is critical to a region in which almost 50 percent of new houses are at risk because of high heat, humidity and Formosan subterranean termites, added Amburgey, a professor in the Forest and Wildlife Research Center.

Structures often suffer because "housing designs well suited for one climate are transferred to other climatic regions without making necessary modifications,” he explained. "Also, emphasis on energy efficiency has resulted in housing designs that trap moisture and cause deterioration of housing systems.”

With initial funding, the research team will design a research and demonstration test house at Mississippi State to serve as a model for evaluating building designs, construction techniques and air-handling systems for use in the South.

"The test house will be dynamic, rather than static, and will be altered as the team generates new data and begins additional research,” said Jane B. Greenwood, associate dean of the College of Architecture. "We currently are working on the design phase of the project. Once completed, the test house will serve as a teaching facility for our students and as a demonstration site for builders.”

In addition to conducting research, the housing center will serve as a technology transfer hub to educate architects, builders, building officials, building material suppliers, repair and remodeling contractors, and others about creating houses that will be durable in the South, Greenwood added.

Determining the durability of building materials exposed to the voracious Formosan subterranean termite will be another component of field-testing efforts. An exotic species now infesting 11 states, the yellowish-brown insect—which grows to a half-inch in size—is one of the most destructive termite species in the world. In the United States alone, it has caused tremendous property damage, with a single colony capable of eating approximately 1,000 pounds of wood per year.

Greenwood said College of Architecture researchers will design structures to be placed over termite colony locations at university-developed test sites in South Mississippi. Their campus colleagues in the forest products department then will test both treated and untreated building components to determine how materials respond to the invasive termite.

"We're currently in the first year of funding,” Amburgey said. "We'll seek additional funding for projects that strive to make housing durable, energy efficient, disaster resistant, environmentally friendly, and affordable.”

NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For more information, contact Dr. Amburgey at (662) 325-3057,; or Dean Greenwood at 325-2202,

Forest Products