Opening pop-up test building STEAMlab21 in Kortrijk

(17-11-2017) STEAMlab21 is built by UGent, VTI Kortrijk and a number of industrial partners to investigate innovative systems in the construction sector.

The pop-up building, STEAMlab21, was officially opened on November 16th 2017 in the presence of the Flemish Minister of Education Hilde Crevits and the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, prof. Patrick De Baets.

Solar Decathlon competition

VTI Kortrijk and UGent built and designed the test building. The reason to start this project is the participation of Ghent University in the prestigious Solar Decathlon competition. In addition, students design, build and inhabit the energy-efficient home that is measured in great detail for 10 days to test the efficiency. On November 13th, Ghent University submitted its candidacy to participate in the next European edition in 2019 in Szentendre, Hungary. Ghent University already participiated successfully in the Solar Decathlon competition in 2011 (Washington, USA) and 2013 (Datong, China).

Multidisciplinary input and cooperation VTI Kortrijk

The complete design and construction requires input from numerous disciplines: stability, architecture, building physics, installation technology, but also marketing and communication. Different research groups from various faculties of Ghent University therefore cooperate in the project. In addition to the theoretical aspects, it must also be considered how a building can be realized practically in the short term: the building has to be completely built within 10 days. That practical experience is much needed, and was found at the VTI in Kortrijk.

At the VTI in Kortrijk, there is ample experience with building structures, both in solid and timber construction, as well as electrical installations, heating, cooling and more.

In the run-up to the next Solar Decathlon in 2019 in Hungary, a collaboration between Ghent University and the VTI Kortrijk in the form of the test building STEAMlab21 has been therefore initiated.

Prefab test building

3D test building from prefab elements from Unilin: the openings on the left and the central allow to build and test innovative walls.The construction sector is a rather conservative oner. The implementation of the EPB regulations can be called a landslide without any doubt, and the evolution in materials has also increased spectacularly. In order to meet the energy targets of 2030 and 2050, it is important to renovate or replace more buildings at a much quicker tempo. Today we do not reach 1%, and this should evolve to 2.5% to renovate a sufficient part of our portfolio in the coming years. In that context, the potential of prefab is of course very important. Especially with more large-scale projects, prefab systems can also become financially interesting.

That is why the test building was designed in prefab self-supporting sandwich elements with wooden support beams. This system allows a building to be realized very quick with good thermal performance and good airtightness. In the test building there are two free openings of about 2.4m to 3m in which a temporary wall can be placed in function of research.

Timber frame construction

There is a current research on the hygrothermal behavior of a timber frame wall with bio-ecological materials. With a structure, therer can be more water in the wall than expected, for example due to rain during the construction site, water infiltration through the rain cover, or too much air leakage from inside air.

It is therefore important that a construction is sufficiently "forgiving" so that these occasional problems do not result in real damage. For this purpose, the vapor barrier (intelligent vapor barrier or OSB) and the type of insulating material (cellulose and blown glass wool) were varied. Water can also be added to these build-ups to simulate the effect of occasional water infiltrations.

With the help of 92 sensors that measure the temperature, relative humidity and wood moisture content, it is possible to investigate how the water migrates in the wall. After the measurements, the wall is broken down and biological tests will be performed on the wood to map out any damage.

Internet-of-Things control

A prototype of the Renson Healthbox 3 with IoT control has been installed in the test buildingA prototype of the Renson Healthbox 3 with Internet-of-Things control has been installed in the test building. In addition, a prototype of a new ventilation system from Renson with IoT control has been installed. With such IoT control there is a continuous link between the device and the internet and a lot of new possibilities arise. This way the operation can be continuously monitored and errors can be detected. The continuous data flow also offers potential to generate a new kind of information: the behavior of the resident can be used to optimize control algorithms and inform the user. The indoor air quality can also be monitored and viewed via an app.

Personal ventilation and heating

In a next stage, we will perform research in which we control personal ventilation using tracking devices. Sensors determine someon's location in a room followed by ventilation only in that area. For example, ventilation can be integrated into the headbords, in seats or in a desktop. Coupled with the personal ventilation, it is also our ambition to analyze the potential of local heating.


Previously there was only local heating with a gas stove in every room. There was also a kind of demand-controlled heating, where people only switched on the heating when they were present themselves. With the rise of central heating in combination with slow delivery systems (such as underfloor heating), homes are more often heated 24/7 at the same temperature. This is one of the reasons why the effect of major renovations on the energy bill is often overestimated. A new concept would be that a home is only heated up to 18°C instead of 21°C, but this is supplemented by personal heating, such as radiant panels incorporated in the kitchen, electrically heated seat, heated desk chair and a heated computer mouse.

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