research project

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project team has been quickly jumping between testing scales as the research continues. The test cell, introduced in the last blog post, is now finished- fully covered in a rigid layer of Geofoam insulation and ready for testing! The team is currently working on a large scale thermally active surface design to get these tests running. 

In the meantime, the team also built 1 of 2 test buildings. As a reminder, there will be two test buildings. One will be only mass timber construction and the other will couple mass timber construction with the Breathing Wall system. The team took advantage of every ounce of sunshine last week to build the mass timber test building in just under 3 days. Because of all the wood prep done before Christmas break and the threaded rod construction, all the team had to do was stack the 2x4s and 2x6s to form the walls. 

The ceiling was the real trick. Because the threaded rods for the walls run through the floor and the ceiling (tying the whole test building together), the team had to ensure the holes on the ceiling would line up perfectly with the vertical threaded rods. So the team built the ceiling off site, tightened it down to an exact measurement, drilled the holes, then took it apart. When the walls were up, the ceiling was installed in exactly the same order as it was assembled before to ensure the holes lines up with the threaded rods. Next up, doors! 

Stay tuned for another test building, doors, and a roof coming together very swiftly. 

Praying for sunshine, 

The Always Damp Breathers 

Soundtrack: Have You Ever Seen the Rain? | Creedence Clearwater Revival 

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!

The Return of Zelda

As construction continues, the team is also spending their spare time (ha!) scaling up in the horizontal and vertical sock tests. Each increase in scale comprises of another variable added to the test. This testing method isolates the effects of each variable. The horizontal sock test has moved up in scale to a new test box the team lovingly refers to as Zelda – you may recognize her from earlier air infiltration tests, where the team was experimenting with different laminated timber assemblies. Zelda adds the element of these laminated panels in a forced-air system in comparison to the previous solid wood panel. With the laminated panels, the team will also be testing different hole spacings for the Breathing Wall to try and find the most optimized geometry for the Test Buildings.

Jumping even larger in scale, the team is constructing their test cell. This cell serves as a way to test a full-scale Breathing Wall in isolation. The cell is the same dimension as the future Breathing Wall Mass Timber test buildings, but the floor, ceiling, and three of the walls are standard stud-framing with hyper-insulation. The Breathing Wall is added to one side of the cell for testing. This eliminates the variable of the mass timber construction so the team can use this data to compare with their final test buildings. One of those buildings will test the whole Breathing Wall Mass Timber system, while the other will be only mass timber to serve as a control. Like the rest of their experiments, these steps should allow the team to understand the impact of each variable and strengthen their understanding of the whole system!

Stay tuned for a fully insulated vertical sock and test buildings!

Always adding to our material palette,

The Itchy Insulators

Soundtrack: The Scientist | Coldplay