Raising Chimney

Live from HomeLab, it’s the Graduate Program! The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team members are officially Rural Studio master’s students. The team’s summer semester has started off hot with ventilation opening calibration.

Even with the latest ventilation opening adjustment, described in our airflow post, the data from the Concrete Chimney Experiment reveals the airflow is still choked. As you can see in the temperature signal graph below, the thermal mass surface temperature never rises above the interior air temperature as it should in an optimally tuned space. If we then look at the airflow graph below, we see that the updraft, bulk airflow during the night, is nearly double the downdraft, bulk airflow during the day. When the blue line is above zero, the system is in updraft and when below zero it is in downdraft. Both of these graphs allude that the thermal storage cycle and the buoyancy ventilation cycle are out of sync. This is due to a lack of air. Air drives the cycles as it brings warm air into the chimney to be absorbed and offloaded by the thermal mass.

The team examined their previous math for calculating the total area for the ventilation opening. They’ll spare you the gory details, but the predicted bulk air flow rate they were using to calculate the size was too small resulting in a ventilation opening that was too small. Thanks to the airflow sensors they no longer needed to use a predicted air flow rate and instead used the actual average airflow rate coming from the Concrete Chimney Experiment. After this recalculation the ventilation opening nearly doubled from 3/4” to 1 1/8”. The team then let the chimney do her thing for a week.

a graph showing two days of temperature signals, where the air temperature falls below the panel temperature
Black = Exterior Air
Dashed Gray = Interior Air
Orange = Thermal Mass Surface,
Dashed Orange = Thermal Mass Interior

The data is in and it is as hot as the Alabama asphalt. The team, along with their colleagues were correct in their assumption that the flow was being choked AND the new ventilation opening size is allowing the chimney to operate optimally! In the temperature signal graphs, the thermal mass surface temperature and the interior air temperature properly oscillate. Therefore, the thermal mass is absorbing the heat properly allowing it to be warmer than the interior air at times.

a graph showing two days of airflow data, where the downdraft is larger than the udraft
Blue = Bulk Air Flow

As you can see from the airflow graphs, the bulk airflow of the updraft and the down draft has equalized and is becoming more symmetrical. Both outcomes, in temperature and airflow, reveal there is now a proper amount of air moving through the chimney. The downdraft is still a bit more turbulent than the updraft however and the team wondered if this was due to the concrete pad underneath the chimney releasing heat it absorbed throughout the day. To combat this heat, the team jacked up their Concrete Chimney Experiment… literally!

To raise the chimney, in order to give it some more height via cinder blocks, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project used car jacks. The team will see if this helps with the heat interference and its possible effects on the air flow. 

two small white dogs in a car

As you can see Wolfie is still in town on his summer vacation! He and Copper like to observe the team work. To insure their safety as the chimney was being raised they watched from inside the car. They really love the car. For more science, design, and cute pets, stay tuned!

Calibrate and Graduate

Team is posing with their new outfit

Exciting things have been happening at HomeLab lately! First, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project (TMBVRP) Team were able to install airflow sensors into the Concrete Chimney Experiment. Second, the chimney has brought in some impressive data. And third, the TMBVRP team participated in an end of the semester presentation and round table discussion with their big sister team, the Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project, and a cast of professionals in the architecture and building science research field.

This week the team received their Sensirion differential pressure air flow sensors. The sensors record a difference in dynamic and static pressure which the team uses to calculate bulk flow. Bulk flow is the total airflow at the sensor location. The team installed two sensors into the Concrete Chimney Experiment, one at the bottom and one at the top, to measure updraft and downdraft ventilation created by the thermal mass.

Just to refresh your memory, updraft occurs during the night when the cool, night air is brought in the bottom ventilation opening, warmed by the thermal mass, and exhausted out the top. Downdraft occurs during the day, the warm, exterior air is drawn into the top ventilation opening, is cooled by offloading heat to the thermal mass,  and vents out the bottom.  Being able to measure the direction and amount of ventilation is critical to understand if the Concrete Chimney Experiment is performing as expected.

And the results are in, our initial measurements from the airflow sensors do show that during the day the chimney is operating in downdraft and during the night it operates in updraft. This gives us proof of concept, that thermal mass is able to alter the atmosphere inside the chimney so that it goes against the exterior environment.

graph showing airflow in the test chimney

The GreenTeg temperature sensors have also brought in proof of concept data, showing that the thermal mass is having a damping effect on the interior air. It is important that the temperatures of the thermal mass and interior air cycle with the daily swing in temperature so that heat is absorbed by the mass during the day and offloaded during the night. This shows that the internal thermal mass is effectively moderating the temperature in the chimney and causing continuous ventilation. We are continuing our testing to further calibrate the amount of ventilation to achieve the most efficient and effective heat transfer between the internal thermal mass and air.

Temperature signal graph comparison

To wrap up our undergraduate work, we had a roundtable presentation via Zoom to give an update on where our work is and share our exciting results with Auburn, our collaborators at McGill, and professionals in the architecture and building science research field.  This panel included Billie Faircloth, a partner and research director at the architecture firm Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia, PA.  Second, we were joined by Jonathan Grinham, who is a Lecturer in Architecture and Research Associate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.  Last but not least, is Z Smith.  Z is a Principal and the Director of Sustainability & Performance at Eskew Dumez Ripple in New Orleans, LA.  

It was a privilege to be able to present and have a productive discussion with such esteemed professionals.  We gained valuable insight on how to best relay the work we are doing do both those in the research field and the common person. In addition, their backgrounds led to an intriguing discussion on how The Optimal Tuning Strategy could be implemented at the building scale. It was especially awesome to discuss the successful data the team recently got form the Concrete Chimney Experiment. Both the data and the discussion gave the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team a boost of confidence and pride in their work. It not always easy for these architecture students to wrap their heads around the science, but the hard work paid off. Thank you to Rural Studio, Salmaan Craig, Kiel Moe, David Kennedy, and the reviewers for a positive end of the undergraduate phase of the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project.

Final shout out to the incredible Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project Team. As they complete the paper on their research and graduate from the Master’s program they still had time to do something very sweet for their little sister team. They passed along their Rural Studio lab coats, crossing out their names and writing the names of the TMBVRP team members. Their work, dedication, and attitude could not be a better example for the TMBVRP team to emulate. From one research project team to the other, thank you for helping us whenever we needed and being the best big sister team imaginable. We hope to live up the legacy! Well, everyone, stay tuned (optimally tuned) this summer for the start of the graduate program at HomeLab.

Temperature Swings

Now that the Concrete Chimney Experiment is built, let’s take a look at what should be going on inside! To understand if the Optimal Tuning Strategy is cooling and ventilating the space within the chimney, we compare four temperature signals. Quick reminder, the Optimal Tuning Strategy refers to the set of mathematical scaling rules that proportion thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation to act together in a natural feedback loop. The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team prefer nicknames, typing their project name is enough work.

Let’s take a look at these four temperature signals which identify how effectively the Optimal Tuning Strategy is operating with the Concrete Chimney Experiment. The temperature signals are; exterior air temperature, interior air temperature, thermal mass surface temperature, and thermal mass interior temperature. These temperatures are taken within the chimney using GreenTeg sensors. The exterior air temperature is the temperature of the air outside, like the temperature you read on a forecast. The interior air temperature is the temperature of the air within the chimney, like the temperature you read on your thermostat in your home. The thermal mass surface temperature measures the temperature of the surface of the concrete panel. This surface interacts with the interior air. The thermal mass interior temperature is the temperature inside the mass. We can use a melting ice cube to understand the difference in the thermal mass temperatures. When an ice cube melts, the surface melts first while the center of the cube remains frozen. So, the surface and interior temperatures of the thermal mass can differ just as the outdoor and indoor temperatures can.

Theses four temperature signals describe if the thermal mass is absorbing and offloading heat from the air which should, in turn, drive conveyance ventilation cycles. The times of day the mass is absorbing and offloading heat should be relatively consistent day-to-day due to the diurnal cycle. The diurnal cycle is the variation between a high temperature and a low temperature that occurs during the same day. In other words, for most days the temperature rises until a peak typically in the afternoon and then falls again until reaching a low before the sun begins to rise again.

Each day the cycle repeats. Though the time of day of the high and low can vary. Here, you can see the diurnal cycle for a typical summer day in Hale County. We can then normalize that temperature swing into a Sin Wave for mathematical analysis. This is the exterior air temperature.

To see how all these temperatures should compare to each other throughout the day we can look at this graph. Notice the axis of temperature and time are simplified radially, but we are still looking at a full day with a typical temperature swing. This graph represents an Optimally Tuned space where the proportions of thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation are ideally balanced. The solid black line represents the exterior air temperature. The dotted gray line represents the interior air temperature. The solid orange line represents the thermal mass interior temperature. The dotted orange line represents the thermal mass surface temperature. As you can see, the interior air temperature is never hotter or cooler than the exterior air temperature. It is dampened by the thermal mass absorbing and offloading heat from the interior space. The thermal mass surface and interior temperatures show the mass warming by the absorption of heat from the air and cooling when the heat releases back into space. When the thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation proportions are not balanced the graph looks drastically different.

On the left, you see what it would be like if there were a lot more ventilation and a lot less thermal mass. Too much ventilation causes the interior environment to act just like the exterior environment and there is not enough thermal mass to affect the space. This would be like being in a tent. On the right, you see what it would be like if there were a lot less ventilation and a lot more thermal mass. Too little ventilation does not bring in enough heat for the thermal mass to absorb. The thermal mass is also so large it takes too much heat to fill up, which means it takes longer for the mass to start offloading it into the space. This is like being in a cave.

temperature signal graph
Temperature signal data graphed to compare to ideal Optimal

Finally, here is some of the data we have pulled from our sensors so far! Although the Concrete Chimney Experiment is definitely damping the temperature within the space the thermal mass temperatures are essentially the same. This means we may not have enough ventilation, not enough heat being brought in with be absorbed and offloaded. We are working on getting airflow sensors to see if this could be the case. The team is also recalculating the size needed for the ventilation openings.

If you stuck around until the end of this one, big thanks! Here’s a picture of Cory’s kittens Rosemary and Dijon to ease your mind. As always, we will be back soon with more rural science so stay tuned…. optimally tuned.

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!