In the spring of 2017, Clemson’s Wood Utilization + Design (WU+D) Institute, along with the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, School of Architecture, Department of Construction Science and Management, and Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, was presented with an opportunity to share an existing 12,000-foot, high bay facility in Pendleton, SC. This space will be known as the Built Environment Lab (BEL), and will be utilized for collaborative instruction and research that addresses the many challenges facing the construction, operation and maintenance of South Carolina’s built environment. The Wood Utilization + Design Institute (WU+D), in particular, develops new and sustainable wood products from South Carolina’s abundant forests to be used in construction.

Geothermal Well Installation at New BEL Facility

Geothermal wells are installed at the new Built Environment Lab (BEL) facility in Pendleton, SC.

“Our goal is to increase the use of wood products in our state, which will heighten South Carolina’s $21 billion forest industry economic impact and benefit its 200,000+ forest landowners,” said Pat Layton, WU+D Director.

Increasing wood manufacturing and growing more trees are both critical to the health of rural communities, where most trees are grown, harvested and transported to manufacturing.

“South Carolina is blessed with abundant, sustainable forests to support more economic growth,” Layton continued.

From 2015-16, South Carolina had the 10th-fastest growing population in the nation and topped 5 million citizens in 2017 (Census Bureau statistics). In the midst of continued growth, South Carolina faces significant building challenges. Success in a 21st century economy requires serious, sustained leadership in housing and structures research, instruction and development to overcome these challenges.

The BEL will focus on the design and construction needs of South Carolina’s expanding built environment. These needs fall into two overlapping categories – materials and structures. For materials, a focus will be put on improving existing building materials as well as developing new materials. There will also be investigations into new-and-improved methods for working with these materials. With regard to structures, a focus will be put on designing and adapting structural systems to take advantage of material developments. To ensure success, the BEL will be used as a collaborative space. The space will be renovated into a well-designed and equipped facility for multi-disciplinary approaches to research, development, instruction and implementation. It will also support the state’s competitiveness in built environments, healthier forests and rural economies. The BEL facility will be the hub for built environment undergraduate and graduate research on campus.

Workers install geothermal wells

Workers install two vertical geothermal wells in February, 2018 to test which processes is best at new BEL facility.

“This new facility will be a significant improvement over what is currently available for research, though much work still needs to be done to renovate and equip it,” Layton commented.

In February 2018, two vertical geothermal wells were installed on the property as the very first research installation. The wells are two fundamentally different designs and the goal is to compare their thermo-mechanical performance.

“We performed initial thermal tests and presented the preliminary results in March [2018] at the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association’s annual conference in Orlando, FL,” said Vincent Blouin, PhD, Associate Professor of the School of Architecture and Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University.

During the spring semester of 2018, students from the School of Architecture altered the existing design of a sim[PLY] 10′ x 10′ tiny house to encompass the equipment used to run and test the geothermal wells. A groundbreaking for the installation of the tiny house foundation occurred on May 16, 2018 next to the new wells on the north lawn of the BEL building.

Well installation and groundbreaking for the sim[PLY] tiny house are complete

Well installation and groundbreaking for the sim[PLY] tiny house have been completed on the north lawn, pictured here.

“The tiny house will actually be used for multiple projects,” commented Blouin. It will be used for geothermal testing spearheaded by Blouin, the testing of different insulation and interior sheathing assemblies spearheaded by Dustin Albright (Assistant Professor for Clemson’s School of Architecture), the testing of lighting performance of electrochromic windows also spearheaded by Blouin, and the design, assembly and testing of exterior cladding spearheaded by Daniel Harding (Associate Professor for Clemson’s School of Architecture).

Connect with the WU+D Institute for updates on the progress of the BEL facility and ensuing research, by visiting or following the institute on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Connect with Pat Layton on LinkedIn.


About the Wood Utilization + Design Institute

Clemson University’s Wood Utilization + Design Institute (WU+D) was established in 2013 as a multidisciplinary engine of innovation where foresters, architects, engineers, constructors and building industry stakeholders coalesce to design advancements in wood-based construction materials to compete with steel, concrete and other materials currently used in nonresidential construction.