Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, Rural Studio had to cancel the Pig Roast celebration hosted at the end of each spring semester to acknowledge the work happening in Newbern. To conclude the team’s two years of research, the team presented to a wide range of reviewers in a “Zoom Roast.” This celebration/critical review allowed the team to share their work as well as receive feedback on how to continue moving forward. Thank you to the Rural Studio faculty, Auburn University faculty, and our project collaborators from McGill University and Auburn University for spending the morning reviewing the project on Zoom. Also a huge thank you to Michael Jemtrud from McGill University, Z Smith from Eskew Dumez Ripple, Billie Faircloth from Kieran TImberlake, and Jonathan Grinham from the GSD at Harvard University for coming in as guest reviewers to critique the research project.
The team is currently working on a draft of their first peer reviewed paper (!!!) to be published in Energy and Buildings. The “zoom roast” was an opportunity to analyze the experimental set ups before beginning the peer review process. The team has been working closely with Salmaan Craig in the past few months to finalize a draft focusing on three experiments the team completed in the past year. The paper explores a method of integrating ventilation and heating into a mass timber envelope, allowing for a mono-material building that is able to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases while also reducing the need for mechanical ventilation systems. The experiments in the paper lays out 1) how to optimize panel geometry and identify the design space for this system, 2) how the system could be synchronized with natural ventilation flows to obviate conventional HVAC, and 3) how transient behaviors affect the system.
The team is also working on writing up the results and testing method for the thermal conductivity testing they completed in the engineering lab at Auburn University to be published in an architectural journal.
Stay tuned for links to both of these papers once published and available to the public!
An important part of the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project is investigating whether, if properly sized, mass timber can be used as a thermal mass. To do so, the team will build a Wood Chimney Experiment to run in parallel with the Concrete Chimney Experiment. As they work to compare the thermal mass performance of concrete and softwood, they must learn more about the thermal and structural properties of the materials. A material’s anatomy affects how it absorbs, transfers, and offloads heat. Concrete has been used as a thermal mass for ages and therefore has widely known and defined thermal properties. However, there is far less information on the thermal properties of wood. Let’s take a closer look at the composition of timber as taught to the team by colleague David Kennedy, a self-proclaimed, “Wood Anatomist Fanboy.”
The first consideration for wood is the difference between isotropic and anisotropic materials. Isotropic materials, like concrete, have consistent properties in all directions. Anisotropic materials, like wood, have orientation dependant properties. Wood has an anisotropic, cellular structure that provides its strength and its the ability to move water and minerals to the outer reaches of the branches. A tree’s main job is to transfer water and nutrients from the ground to the sky and vice versa. Therefore, wood cells can be visualized as bundles of straws, with some acting as pipelines while others store nutrients. These cells consist of tracheids, parenchyma, and epithelial cells. Tracheids are actually dead cells that function as water transporters. Parenchyma store starches that give nutrients for the tree. Epithelial cells take on the job of building the tree. These cells act vertically, while ray tracheids, ray parenchyma, and ray epithelial cells work in the horizontal direction.
As trees grow their structural properties change based on what they need. This is why different parts of the tree are composed of different types of wood depending on their age. If a cross-section is examined, two important types of wood will be present, juvenile wood and heartwood. Juvenile wood is a weaker less dense outer ring and is usually distinguished by a lighter color. This wood makes up the early growth and is not evenly distributed throughout the tree. Often, the tops of trees will be 100% juvenile wood, while the lower parts of the tree are more mature heartwood. Heartwood, the mature, older wood, is produced by converting stored chemicals that are produced by the dying parenchyma cells that have been sent to the center of the tree. This area of the tree is typically darker and denser. These different cells and wood types can result in different characteristics throughout the same tree, which must be carefully considered.
The performance of thermal mass is heavily influenced by the thermal conductivity of materials. The thermal conductivity of materials is heavily influenced by the density of materials. With the variety of conditions that are possible all within the same tree, it is important to consider how the material is cut and oriented. This is also important because of the grain directions present in the wood. Just like water flows through the tree along cellular pathways, heat will follow the grain of the wood. Therefore, the cut of the wood must be selected so that the grain in the same direction as the preferred heat transfer.
Now that we have learned more about the structure of wood and how that affects its heat transfer we can understand how the wood should be cut and oriented. Initially, the team’s wood test panels utilized the timber end grain. This end grain direction would be parallel to heat transfer. However, depending on the size of the tree and how blocks were cut, the types of wood in the panels could become inconsistent. This meaning they could be made of different mixtures of juvenile wood and heartwood. They were also pretty inefficient to make.
To find a better way, the team investigated the different ways timber is milled into boards. The TMBVRP team found that different cuts of wood could produce different grain directions. The most efficient grain direction for our panels would be to have the grain running perpendicular to the wide face of the boards. This allows the board to cover the area most efficiently, and the board thickness can be controlled to work with the app results. This grain direction can result from several milling, but we believe quarter sawing will produce the most favorable boards with the least waste. The team then made their own version of these boards, but as panels for their wood chimney.
Wood is a far more complex than the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team realized! They too are now “Wood Anatomist Fanboys” and hope you’re on you’re way to becoming one. Now, Give your brain a break and look at Rosemary and Dijon being mischievious! Thank you again to David Kennedy for all the help and as usual stay tuned to see what theTMBVRP Team learns next!
The team (finally) beat the rain for a few days and finished stacking the two test buildings. The construction process is extremely quick due to the threaded rod construction method. The team organized the wood on site then spent a few days stacking each piece of timber on the threaded rods.
Next step is the metal roof! For now, here are a few aesthetically pleasing mass timber photos for your feed.
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
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!