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Karatas researching prefab building assemblies

CME Clinical Assistant Professor Aslihan Karatas researching prefab wall panels for the construction industry in her lab at UIC

Will prefab wall panels be the future for the construction industry? This is what CME Clinical Assistant Professor Aslihan Karatas wants to answer with the grant she recently received from STO Corp.

The new research, titled “Comparative Analysis of Theoretical and Experimental Thermal Performances and Water/Air Resistance of Wall Panel Joints Prefab vs Precast,” is a continuation of ongoing projects she has worked on with industrial partner STO Corp., which serves construction needs throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean, by providing smart building solutions to its customers.

The first project she worked on for STO Corp. investigated the thermal performance of wall assemblies, which is the building envelope. Karatas focused on the performance of the buildings and how it responded to different climate conditions and changes.

“Our new project aims to compare the theoretical and experimental thermal performance and water/air resistance of wall panel joints in prefab and precast building assemblies,” said Karatas, who is the director of the Built Environment and Infrastructure Lab at UIC. “We will be looking at the water leakage and air leakage issues in prefab wall assemblies with heavy rain conditions or maybe a hurricane to see how these assemblies are going to behave.”

Available software is making engineering measurements and calculations and they’re not accurately calculating the actual thermal performances of prefab walls compared to the traditional walls built on the work site.

“When you only use the software calculations it neglects a couple of advantages of prefab wall assemblies,” she said. “One is having them all stick together so basically you have very minimal human error and air leakage between the different layers and we’re talking about like 10-15 different layers.”

She noted that when prefab walls are combined, they compact together in the factory, which minimizes deficiencies compared to at the job site.

“We were able to actually confirm that prefab has a 15-20% better thermal performance,” she said. “The payback is huge to the building owner. We’re talking about a savings of $100,000 to $200,000 in terms of the life cycle of a building, and they don’t have to go with a larger HVAC system if they’re aware of how their building performs.”

In addition to changing the industry, the research will have a significant benefit to UIC students. Karatas is teaching sustainable construction and introducing students to building technology and presenting them with case study problems that come from industry.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for me and my students having industry partners in the loop, so we are dealing with the real-world problems and trying to find solutions for that together in the classroom environment,” she said. “I’m teaching them what to expect in the near future when they’re in the market or when they’re in their professional career.”