Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation

Thermal Imagination

Live from HomeLab, it’s time to evaluate our experimental environment! While the Wood Chimney Experiment racks up data, the team is trying to better understand the thermodynamics of their Lab. Of course by “Lab” the Thermal Mass and Bouyancy Ventilation Research Project Team means their carport. Let’s get into it!

Quickly after building the Wood Chimney the team noticed sunlight hitting it’s lower half in the early morning. Although a small amount of morning sunlight will not stop the Optimal Tuning Strategy from cooling and ventilating the Wood Chimney chamber, it creates unequal conditions between experiments. One of the objectives of this research project is to understand if southern yellow pine is comparable to concrete as an internal thermal mass material. Due to concrete’s thermal properties, it is consistently used as a thermal mass material. If the team can prove that wood can also be a consistent thermal mass material when sized correctly the rural south can utilize their natural resources to provide not only structure in builds, but temperature and ventilation control. Therefore, these experiments need to have equal conditions.

The first step in creating a more equal environment was building a shade structure for the low, eastern light. Made of dimensional lumber and an extra blue tarp, the shade screen blocks any direct sunlight from hitting the chimney while allowing air to enter the bottom of the chimney. This will equalize the amount of heat from direct sunlight, also known as radiant heat, the Concrete and Wood Chimney’s experience. However, the radiant heat on the eastern side of the Lab, shown on the left above, experiences may lead to higher ambient air temperature around the Wood Chimney.

To understand if this is having a significant effect on the Wood Chimney in comparison to the Concrete Chimney the team got out the FLIR thermal imaging camera. Thermal imaging is simply the process of converting infrared radiation into visible images that depict the spatial distribution of temperature differences in a scene viewed by a thermal camera. This will help us understand the distribution of heat in the lab. From the thermal imaging photos, we can see the difference in temperature in the Lab. The eastern side, on the upper left, because of the radiant heat from the sunlight stays consistently warmer. The western side, on the lower right, is cooler than the rest of the space because it is mostly shaded from any sunlight. Also, due to the size of the Lab, there is clear heat stratification. As heat rises, it gets stuck under the ceiling. While this environment is not detrimental to the experiments, the team is hoping to be able to move the experiments to the Fabrication Pavilion on Morrisette Campus. There, the experiments will have more consistent shade in a much larger space. The larger space will make a more consistent environment as heat will stratify farther away from the top of the Chimneys.

The team has also begun thinking about their next scale of experiment. They want to test the Optimal Tuning Strategy at human scale. This means the space needs to be large enough for someone to experience the cooling effects as well as see what an internal thermal mass looks like in a space. Scaling up, besides being experiential, will also seek to prove that the Optimal Tuning Strategy is truly proportional and applicable for public buildings. The team has to consider what proportions of space will make the Human Scale Experiment data comparable to the Test Chimney data. This is not so straight forward as they need to make sure the experiments do not become too tall or tight as to impede quick, safe construction as the Human Scale Experiment will be a temporary structure for testing. The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team is using the Optimal Tuning Application to design the Human Scale Experiment at this schematic phase. The application was recently published by Wolfram Demonstrations Project! The team will soon do a post on understanding and using the app.

Thermal image of Dijon the cat

Last, but not least, here is a thermal image of HomeLab mascot Dijon. No conclusions were made about Dijon based on his environment. Keep Tuning in as the TMVRP team works from HomeLab!

Wood you believe we did it?

Timber pun prepared and deployed? Scientific apparatus built? Yes to both! Live from HomeLab, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team is proud to present to you, the Wood Chimney Experiment! No science lessons today folks, just photos.

Students posing with their test chimneys.

SPOILER ALERT! On the left, you see our tried and true, the one who taught us so much, the Concrete Chimney Experiment. On the right, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation family welcomes their newest member, the Wood Chimney Experiment. Now let’s look at the building process.

The top and bottom insulation blocks are created by adhering two 6″ x 3′ 7″ x 3′ 7″ to make them 1″ thick. If you would like a reminder on why this insulation is necessary for the experiment phase and not necessarily for an actualized building you can read this post. The airflow cones are carved out so that they align with the airflow opening of the chimney interior chamber.

Here we’ve got the chimney walls coming together! Four sandwiches of ZIP sheathing, GeoFoam, and Wood Thermal Mass Panels all attached to create an interior chamber.

Three walls up, the fourth needs its sensors! The TMBVRP team thinks it would be absolutely wonderful to be in a space surrounded by edge grain wood that is also naturally ventilated.

The Sensirion airflow sensors will also be in this experiment. Incorporating how sensors can be attached within the chimney and their cords can make it out of the chimney without being squished is a crucial part of the design.

Before the Wood Chimney Experiment interior chamber is sealed, the fourth wall containing the temperature signal sensors must be attached. The temperature signals, read about temperature signals here, will be sensed with thermocouples and heatflux sensors. Next step in the process will be building up the insulation surrounding the interior chamber.

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation team is aware they used to refer to these scientific apparatus as “Desktop Experiment’s”. Technically the inner chamber could stand on a desk, but a more appropriate name might be Carport Experiments or Taller than the Team Experiments. Let’s just call them the Chimney Experiments for clarity. These experiments are still the first and smallest experiments for the scalable Optimal Tuning Strategy. And look, the Wood Chimney Experiment is done! Batt insulation and 2″ GeoFoam walls encase the interior chamber and ZIP tape is used to seal the entire experiment.

Students posing with their test chimneys.

Thank you to all who have encouraged and supported the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation team! The team is very excited to have reached this point, but the work is no where near over. It will take time to learn a new data retrieval and analysis workflow for the new sensors. The team is excited to get to it, but first we are going to celebrate our Wood Chimney Experiment! Cheers y’all and STAY TUNED!

Preparing a Timber Pun for a Post Title

Live from HomeLab, it’s Wood Chimney Experiment preparation. The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project team members are continuing their efforts to refine a passive cooling and ventilation system which can be deployed to public buildings in the rural South. Due to the fantastic results from the Concrete Chimney Experiment, the team is starting the Wood Chimney Experiment. They have developed an experimental method for designing and building chimneys which test the Optimal Tuning Strategy. They also have honed their data collection workflow and analysis. Now they can move on to testing how timber can work as a thermal mass. You can read about why we are using mass timber as a thermal mass here.

The first step in Wood Chimney Experiment preparation is gathering materials. The team collected sensors that the Mass Timber Breathing Wall team is no longer using. Rural Studio has been growing its scientific equipment stock which allows for reuse between research projects.  The TMBVRP team is inheriting data loggers, heat flux sensors, thermocouples, power supply, and airflow sensors. They will be using different temperature sensors, thermocouples and heat flux sensors, then are used in the Concrete Chimney Experiment. These sensors, like the GreenTeg Go Measurement System, will still deliver the proper temperature readings. This equipment is flexible and adaptable making it easily reusable between projects.

Sensors and power source for wood chimney experiment.
Reduce, Reuse, Re-sense!

Next, you might remember the team’s good friend, GeoFoam. GeoFoam is a type of dense expanded polystyrene foam usually used for earthwork under roadways. Both research teams have been able to use it as insulation for their experiments after the geofoam was donated to the Studio from a construction site. Remember, the team must cut smaller sections of GeoFoam from a huge 8’ x 4’ x 4’ block using a hot wire. The team was able to do so underneath the Morrisette Campus Fabrication Pavilion for a designated time and with faculty approval to ensure safety during the pandemic. They collected the rest of the batt insulation from storage in Brick Barn as well as materials for the structure of the experiment. Everything was hauled back to HomeLab for construction.

Next, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation team continued cutting down and shaping openings in the Geofoam. The top and bottom pieces of the chimney are made of two 6” thick pieces of GeoFoam that are adhered together as 1’ of insulation is needed for the proper U-Value for testing. The top and bottom pieces have cones carved out to ensure proper airflow. Resident King of Precision, Jeff Jeong, double and triple checks each piece of foam. This way the Chimney comes together like an airtight puzzle.

The base for the chimney is constructed out of 2” x 4” lumber and plywood. The legs of this base are taller than the Concrete Chimney Experiment to match its height after being raised. Another difference in the design of the experiments is the walls of the interior chimney which the wood panels will be attached to. The walls for the Concrete Chimney Experiment are, from the chimney chamber outward, concrete panels, insulation, plywood, and then more insulation. The walls of the Wood Chimney Experiment will be pine panels, insulation, ZIP sheathing, and then more insulation. Notice Dijon doing his best to help in the photos below.

Last, but not least, is pre-drilling holes for the concrete panels. The concrete panels will be screwed to the insulation, ZIP sheathing wall. There will be four walls to complete the chimney. Notice the grain direction of the panels. This edge grain allows for parallel heat transfer between the air within the chimney chamber and the pine panels. Not only is the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project testing if timber works as a thermal mass but how the grain direction affects its efficiency as a thermal mass.

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Team is excited for the Wood Chimney Experiment to come together. So are the kittens! The team would not leave you without a HomeLab mascot update. While Dijon mostly naps, Rosemary is trying to get some construction experience to build her resume. They’ve had to tell her she is not OSHA certified, but she is fine napping a safe distance from construction now. It was not a hard sell. Stay Tuned to see the completed Wood Chimney Experiment!

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.