passive strategies

Chimney Cricket!

The desktop experiment mock-up, “The Chimney,” is complete and already bringing in data! Here is a quick look into the making of the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team’s first dive into building a scientific instrument.

Before we get into the construction of a scientific experiment in the non-scientific environment shown above, let’s go back to the Fabrication Pavilion where all the prep work was done. The team used the twelve (recently built) 1′ x 1′ concrete panels to create the four walls of the chimney. For each wall, three concrete panels were screwed to a base of foam atop OSB through the 1/2″ pex pipe that was cast into the panels.

After the four walls were completed, the team tested how they fit together. The OSB and foam base extends past the concrete panels in order for the walls to fit into one another. This also allows for continuous insulation of the concrete chimney within. As seen in the last TMBV Research Project team post, insulation is key. Therefore, the chimney sits atop 1′ of geofoam and has another 1′ geofoam hat. The ventilation PVC pipes run through this geofoam on the top and bottom and connect to the chimney’s interior chamber. This is why the chimney is lifted off the ground by the wooden base, to let air in and out the bottom ventilation pipe.

Next up we have the sensors. The sensors must make it through a foot of insulation in order to take the temperature of the chimney interior chamber air, the surface of the concrete panel, and the backside of the concrete panel. There are also sensors outside of the chimney to measure the exterior air temperature.

The interior air temperature tells the team how the thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation proportions are effecting the interior space while the panel surface and backside temperatures tell the team how efficiently the thermal mass is working. The sensor wires are encased in gasket that runs through holes in the foam, OSB wall to the outside so sensors can be charged without disassembling the whole chimney.

The sensors the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research experiment used are called Green TEG sensors. They transmit data using cell service so all your data can be downloaded from online or watch your data in real-time. This is a blessing and a curse as this makes Green TEG data very convenient, however, while the Morrisette campus has great Wifi, the town of Newbern does not have great cell service. Therefore, the experiment was transported to an undisclosed carport in Greensboro, just 15 miles down AL Highway 61 where it was assembled the rest of the way.

Next up, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team will calibrate, or modify, the experiment once they see how it is performing. After that, the team can start with a wooden chimney. Thanks for tuning in!

Insulation and Other Sensations

Oh hi, didn’t see you there behind my giant block of Geofoam insulation! Let me explain. Recently, Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team has been designing their first experiment, the desktop scale experiment known as “the chimney,” and building a mock-up of it.

The team used the data obtained from the thermal conductivity testing in Auburn University’s material testing lab along with their test concrete panel making experience to choose which concrete mix to use. They are going with Quikcrete Pro-Finish 5000, a high strength, smooth finish mix. Next, the team poured nine new concrete panels at the adjusted thickness. The thickness of the panels increased slightly due to inputting the exact thermal properties of the concrete mix into the code of the optimal tuning application.

The desktop experiment takes the form of a 3″ x 1″ x 1″ chimney with the thermal mass panels facing the interior. The desktop experiment needs to operate in nearly ideal conditions which means eliminating as many variables as possible. It is important to remember this is a scientific experiment of an unproven theory of how an internal thermal mass can be sized for a space to control temperature and promote proper ventilation. Therefore, to eliminate the variable of heat loss or gain from the exterior to the interior, and to understand how the thermal mass panels themselves are working, the chimney needs to be highly insulated.

When you need R50 insulation, even for such a small structure, it can get expensive and big. Their creative solution to getting the proper insulative value without spending hundreds of dollars per test was combining Geofoam and Rockwool! EPS Geofoam is much like rigid insulation but is typically used for earthwork such as building up underneath highway on-ramps. It is very dense giving it more insulative value per inch. Rockwool is a rock-based mineral fiber insulation. Thankfully, Rural Studio had extra R30 from a previous donation. The Geofoam was also donated, the Breathing Wall Mass Timber team got in touch with a construction operation that had extra and transported it to Newbern. In the drawing above you can see the concrete panels screwed onto a piece of 1/2″ OSB and 2″ Geofoam which is then surrounded by 9″ of Rockwool then encased by another layer of 2″ Geofoam. This combination of materials results in R50 insulative value.

The Geofoam comes in giant 8″ x 4″ x 3″ blocks because they are typically stacked underground. So another creative solution was needed, how to cut it down to the size we need. The TMBV team did not have to think too hard on that one because their big sister research team, the Breathing Wall Mass Timber squad, had already built a hot wire cutting system for their own Geofoam needs. A copper wire was spanned at the desired height above a table and heated using cables and an external power source.

Next, the Geofoam block was slid across the table and cut through by the hot wire. Once the Geofoam is at a more manageable size it can be cut using a hack saw. Shout out to the best big sister research team ever, Fergie, Jake, Preston, and Anna, the TMBV team appreciates you!

Whew, that was a lot of insulation talk! To ease everyone’s mind here is a beautiful Newbern sunset. See you next week!

In the field trip

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team got out of Newbern last week and into the field, sawmill, and lab!

The first field trip of last week was to Charlie’s sawmill. Charlie is a retired engineer, woodworker, and long time friend of Rural Studio, having helped with the Greensboro Animal Shelter. The team met Charlie at the Animal Shelter during neckdown week, where he was leading the project to revamp the kennels.

Charlie has a “hobby mill” he has been building up over the past years. He works mainly with salvaged wood and timbers making furniture and folk art. After the team got a tour of Charlie’s sawmill, he treated them to lunch and a brief presentation on wood. Even more than lunch, Charlie has offered the team use of his sawmill. Charlie has a passion for helping others and great deal of building knowledge, the team feels very lucky to have met him! Thank you Charlie!

Next, the TMBVRP team met up with Professor David Kennedy in the material testing lab at Auburn University’s College of Mechanical Engineering to test the thermal properties of their concrete samples. These samples were made using three different concrete mixtures, high finish, fiber-reinforced and 100% Portland cement. The objective was to find the exact heat capacity, thermal conductivity, and effusivity of each mixture. Knowing the specific thermal properties will help eliminate variables in the math when evaluating how the Optimal Tuning Theory is working.

David gave the students a crash course in scientific testing procedure. When conducting such tests, everything needs to be documented. The samples were marked, 10 of each mixture, measured for thickness and diameter, and weighed. The specific volume and density were then calculated for each sample before testing. The sample was again weighed after the test had run. Everything needs to be documented!

Next, the team will analyze the data and recode the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation proportioning application with the specific thermal conductivity results. We’ll talk to you soon!

Let’s do some tests!

Hello from Reggie’s Home! In an effort to create a design that fully responds to the conditions of the site we decided to conduct some soil test to determine where the best places to grow Reggie’s desired fruits and vegetables would be. In order to conduct the test we divided our site into three parts: the front of the site, the part where the old family home stood, and the back of the site where Reggie has been cutting down privet. We collected soil from these areas and sent them to Auburn University’s soil testing laboratory to be tested. 

Box used to mail soil samples.

We have also been researching the plants Reggie wishes to grow to figure out what type of sun and soil they need, as well as what seasons the crops would be harvested. This research and the soil test results led us to determine the best place for Reggie to have a garden would be the north side of the site. With this information we were able to get a more accurate master plan of the site. 

Plant research.

In addition to researching plants available to grow on our site we also continued our research with Earth Tubes, a form of passive heating and cooling. Earth Tubes are essentially buried ventilation ducts that heat or cool the air moving through them because of the constant temperature of the soil. A big question that comes with Earth Tubes is whether or not it will work in our climate due to the humidity. Lucky for us, the Rural Studio Farm Storehouse uses earth tubes in an effort to keep produce at a constant temperature. We have been monitoring the temperature and humidity outside the storehouse and outtake of the Earth Tube to see how effective it is. After a month of recording temperature we discovered a change of temperature from 6-10 degrees. With this information we contacted Adam Pyrek, an Environmental Controls professor from the University of Texas at Austin, to consult whether Earth tubes would be feasible as part of our home design. He encouraged us to continue the research on the temperature and humidity of the storehouse and to keep in mind that Earth Tubes are ideal for keeping a small space at a constant temperature.

Diagram showing how the spaces would be divided using Earth Tubes.

With all this information we will be pushing the design of the home as well as the site as a whole forward!

Until next week,

Reggie’s Home