House June warmth profiles: I

Graph of house temperatures versus height

Where is the warmth in a house?

People are building houses that should keep warm in winter with little heating.
Some parts of the house will stay warmer than other parts. Which parts? How warm?
Answers are not easily found. I hope this temperature record from a house with only personal heating may be useful. This was a time when the house was under extreme stress due to cold weather.

Over a five-day period in winter 2016, I read thermometers frequently at a number of stations around the house. I have selected those stations that form profiles from top to bottom of two wings of the house: the two-storied west wing, and the east wing that is one-storied with a clearstory.
To find how my house differs from yours, see the note below: “Key features of the house”.

Selected thermometer stations

In the West Wing (two-storied)

OUTDOORS, upstairs veranda (+4.7 metres);
Wall upstairs at head height (+4.2 metres);
Wall downstairs at head height (+1.5 metres);
Floor slab surface downstairs (0.0 metres);
Garden subsoil at -0.75 metres.

In the East Wing (single-storied)

Clearstory space at +3.5 metres;
Wall in the hallway at head height (+1.5 metres);
OUTDOORS, in a Gill Screen (+1.5 metres);
Floor slab surface in the en-suite (0.0 metres);
Solid “heat bank” beneath the floor slab (-0.75 metres).

Part I: Average temperature values

SUMMARY RESULT
In the ground under the floor slab the temperature would be just warm enough for winter comfort. Above the floor slab, the higher you go, the colder it gets.

Results

The graph above plots mean temperature against height above the floor slab. (The mean temperature is the time-average over the five days.)

Comparing east wing, west wing, and outdoors

The single-storied east wing was several degrees warmer at all heights than the two-storied west wing. The east wing has advantages: thermal mass, perimeter insulation in the footings, less shading, and a more compact shape.
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Mirrors to reflect the sun

I have begun to warm the shady side of my house with reflected sunlight in winter.

Aluminium mirrors to reflect sun

Sun Mirrors Mar-17

This winter’s set-up.

The first photo shows the present temporary set-up, done on the 10th of March 2017. That is, soon after I had changed the house from its summer regimen (to keep cool) to its winter regimen (to keep warm).
As shown, I attached aluminium foil to the courtyard wall on the south boundary of my block. The foil forms mirrors that reflect winter sun onto the south wall of the house, the edge of the floor slab, the footings and some nearby concrete paths.
The mirrors are sheets of aluminium cooking foil (“Alfoil”) 300 mm wide, cut to 900 mm lengths. I attached the foil to the wall in vertical strips with double-sided tape. As the wall is 12.6 metres long, the total mirror area is 11.3 square metres.

Last winter’s set-up.

Temporary aluminium mirrors to reflect sunlight

Sun Mirrors May-16

Last year, during April and May, I attached only 17 strips of foil 700 mm long in the same way. The total area then was 3.6 square metres. In that winter, the wind did a little damage, which I taped over. Much worse damage was caused by a magpie-lark attacking his reflection. By October, they were torn as shown in the third photo.

Aluminium foil damaged by birds

Bird Damage Oct-16

I repaired some of that damage, too, using builders’ foil, which is stronger. Early in November 2016, I removed all the foil. By then I wanted shade. not sunlight.

Effect of the mirrors

The white-painted courtyard wall reflects nearly all the sunlight it receives. However, this is diffuse reflection, going equally in every direction. Only a small part of it goes to points likely to warm the house.

Sunlight that has been reflected towards the house.

Reflected Light May-16

The aluminium foil reflects in a specular (mirror-like) way, sending nearly all of the solar energy downward at the same angle that it arrived. Because the foil is wrinkled, these mirrors spread the beam of sunlight out to about twice the width of the mirror surface. It is still quite concentrated as can be seen in the last photo, which is lit mainly by reflection from the foil.

Light reflected from these aluminium mirrors is not aimed precisely at points where it would best warm the house. The mirrors are not mobile, and their location owes a lot to chance. Furthermore, the house shades the mirrors for parts of each day; different parts as the season changes.
However, I think the warming effect will be useful, and I hope to be able to measure it.

Related Topics

The mirrors are part of the Courtyard that I have described in posts and pages listed in “My House Page”.


I raised the question of mirrors to reflect sunlight in a thread titled “Reflective Film” on a forum of the Alternative Technology Association (Melbourne).

Ventilation louvre hassles

I specified wooden louvre blades

This louvre window installation is described in this earlier post.

Photo of louvre for night purge

Louvre now fitted with glass blades

The automated louvre window that I specified for my system of summer cooling by nocturnal purge had wooden louvre blades of western red cedar 14 mm thick.
I specified wood because I preferred that this louvre should not be transparent, as I did not want to see through it and I did not want it to admit light. I took the risk that wooden blades might not seal as well as advertised.
Other posters on the ATA forum (see link below) doubted that the blades would seal effectively. They were right.

Failure of the wooden blades to seal

When the louvres were closed for the first time, there was clearly no seal at all. The rubber seals fastened to the blades failed to meet the matching blades, leaving gaps of up to 2 mm admitting daylight.

Attempts to rectify

I wrote a letter of complaint on 18/5/2016.
Rectification work on warranty first revealed faults in the gallery of gearing at the side of the window. However, when the gallery was replaced the gaps remained. The photo shows daylight visible on the right side through three of the gaps.

Photo evidence that louvre does not seal

Wooden louvres showing daylight

As the blades did not meet their specification, the company replaced them without charge. When these new blades did not seal any better, the company offered (on 10/10/2016) to replace them with aluminium blades, 6 mm thick. I reviewed the specifications of their blade options, and decided that this was not acceptable. The aluminium blades had little thermal resistance (U-value: 6.55). Glass blades 6 mm thick, with a low-e coating had much higher thermal resistance (U-value: 4.40), almost the same as the wooden blades (U-value: 4.39). The company agreed to provide these low-e glass blades. (In fact, this had been their original suggestion.)

Sealing of glass louvre blade gaps

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House in a cold October

This October has been very cold. That has kept indoor temperature
in this solar-passive house almost too cool for comfort. I wore warmer clothes and opened windows to admit warm air.

Indoor/outdoor temperature scatter-plot.

The climate this October

The graph shows (on the x-axis) how cold this October [in red] was: the coldest of the new century.
Here on the North-west Slopes of NSW, October warms and cools more from year to year than other months. It is the month most affected by climate cycles such as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). As shown, October warmed by one degree each year from 2011 to 2015, then cooled by nearly six degrees from 2015 to 2016.
ENSO followed almost the same pattern, but October 2012 was warmer than October 2013.
For five months, world temperature has also been down: much lower than it was in the record-breaking months of February and March 2016. (HadCRUT4 Global monthly near-surface data set (Column 2 in the linked table.))

Indoor climate this October

As shown on this graph beginning 2005, the indoor mean temperature in October months has varied with outdoor mean temperature. This coldest October outdoors (15.9 degrees) was also the coldest indoors (20.8 degrees). (But see Note below.)
October is the final month that I keep the house in its winter warming regimen. In 2014 and 2015 it had been almost ideally warm, but in 2016 it was just above the comfort minimum. Since this figure is just an average, there were times when the house was too cool for comfort, especially in the mornings.

Successive unfavourable months this year

As in other seasons, I intend the indoor climate to be comfortable through each spring season.
As I posted in “Hard Winter for Solar-passive” this very cloudy winter had reduced solar gain, making heaters needed much more than usual. However, the mean indoor temperature at winter’s end (August) was normal, although the heat bank was 0.7 degrees cooler than normal.
In September months, the warmth indoors still depends on solar gain through the north windows. This time,the sky continued very cloudy, and the daytime temperature was a record low value. As a result, the indoor temperature was 0.9 degrees down and the heat bank 0.7 degrees down.
By October, there is no solar gain through the north windows: warmth is gained from the surroundings in daytime by conduction, convection and radiation and retained by closed curtains at night. This time, both day and night temperatures were three degrees below normal, reducing daily heat gain and increasing nightly loss. As a result, the indoor temperature was 1.2 degrees down and the heat bank 0.9 degrees down.

What I did

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Solar-passive House Testimonials

Photo of a birthday party in the solar-passive house

Birthday Group

Family members visited the solar-passive house in Monash Street, Manilla, NSW, in Mid-winter 2016. The date of their visit is shown on the graph in this earlier post. This photo shows us dressed for comfort at 17 degrees indoors.

Interviewer:
What do you think of Grandpa’s house in winter?

Grand-son (10):
I like Grandpa’s house. It’s nice. Except there’s no wifi. But apart from that, it’s good.

Grand-daughter (13):
Grandpa’s house? It’s cool. It’s interesting. Awesome curtains – I get a shock when they move because I’m not used to it. The garden is cool too – it’s pretty.

Daughter:
I love winter. And I love visiting my Dad. He built this really great house in Manilla nearly twenty years ago. Prior to that, he was tenanted in an old office space above the newsagent. I loved visiting him back then as well, even if his flat was super hot in summer and not at all cosy in winter. The house he built is wonderful all year round.

Even if there are only a few hours of sun each day in the depths of a NSW winter, that is all you need to warm my dad’s house. You can find yourself a chair in the sun, sit for a while and imagine you’re on vacation in Hawaii. Only with much better coffee. As the sun goes down, the sound of noisy birds settling in for the night comes through from outside.

Kitchen view SW

Kitchen view SW

The kitchen is well-stocked for preparing dinner (especially after we restock it) and, once the stove is on, it’s toasty warm in there. There is a curtain that closes the kitchen off from the rest of the house, but cooking time is social time for us, so we leave it open – which also helps flood the house with the delicious smells of curry. The house finally gets coolish sometime after dinner. That’s when we don the cardies and fluffy slippers and pre-heat the beds. The electric blankets, even on low, manage to warm the bedrooms all night.

Next morning, on a strict schedule, the automatic curtains fly open to announce the new day. Not being an early-morning person, I make good use of the curtain override button. At least, until I get the first whiff of toast.

Son-in-law:
Having grown up in India, I find summer is a breeze and cold weather is a challenge. After a couple of decades in Canberra and almost a decade in Switzerland, I have finally realised that dealing with winter boils down to managing the environment in the house and wearing the right gear.

I have stayed in my father-in-law’s house in Manilla several times, in summer and in winter, most recently in the winter of 2016. The house is comfortable in both summer and winter. I remember feeling colder in winter when I first stayed there compared with now – I am not sure whether the house is warmer, or I have more layers of fat to protect me as I get older. Maybe I just dress more appropriately now for winter thanks to my time in Switzerland.

The place where we hang out the most is the kitchen, and around the kitchen table, over cups of coffee or improvised meals, catching up on left and right leaning newspapers. The kitchen is very cozy in winter, especially when there are multiple dishes cooking away on the stove.

A memorable feature of my father-in-law’s house is the automated curtains which felt space-age when I first experienced them, but now I am used to them. They are like a bell-less morning alarm. Being a morning person, I beat them to it, and am awake before they start moving and letting in light.

Photos of porch awnings adjusted for outdoor living in winter and in summerI love the balcony on the first floor. It is well protected and I can sit there for hours with a cup of coffee and a book, and listen to cockatoos and other birds, and watch the paragliders in the distance when they are out. In winters the mid to late afternoons are the most comfortable.

Photo of a path between trees

In the garden

As the trees and shrubs in the evolving garden have grown and the paths have become more structured it has become a wonderful place to walk around and to relax. The garden bench is particularly inviting. This man is as passionate about his garden as he is about his house. The guided tour of his garden is one of the highlights of our stay there.

Interviewer:
Thank you all for your answers.
Goodnight, everyone.


Recent photos of the house and garden are here.

Hard Winter for Solar-passive

Graphical log of daily indoor and outdoor temperatures for winter 2016.

Temperature log: main features

This graph, for 2016, shows a winter pattern of indoor and outdoor temperatures that is typical for this house. Indoor temperatures vary much less than outdoor temperatures, they rise and fall with them, and they are higher nearly all the time.
While the outdoor temperatures shown go as low as minus three degrees, those indoors lie within the winter “comfort zone” from 17 to 24 degrees (see this post) nearly all the time.

Weather this winter

This winter was harsh for a solar-passive house. Near-record rainfall (227 mm) came with the greatest number of cloudy days of any winter in the new century. There were 53 mornings with more than four octas of cloud, when the average is 33.

Heater use

Because cloud limited the the solar gain, I had to use blower heaters far more than in previous winters. My records show that I used 320 kWh ($80) in these heaters this winter, when I normally use about 40 kWh ($10).
Heaters were also used by guests who were present on the six days shown. As well as being unused to the climate, the guests lived in the colder west wing of the house. They may have used 72 kWh ($18). Those guests have kindly written reviews of their visit.
Even using 400 kWh of electricity for personal heating in a winter could not make a detectable change in house temperature. I have found that blower heaters are surprisingly good at making a room in this house comfortable. As the radiant temperature of the walls is only 2 or 3 degrees too low for comfort, it can be compensated by making the air temperature only slightly higher.

The pattern in detail

While cloudy days are not plotted here (Cloud observations for this winter are plotted elsewhere.), cloudy days can be recognised on the graph. In this climate, days with low maximum temperature and high minimum temperature are always due to cloud. Only in fine weather are days warm and nights frosty. The graph shows how the weather goes through a cycle every week or two: sunny days get warmer, then rain sets in. As it clears, the air gets even colder, before warming up again.
Indoor temperatures follow the same cycle, but there are differences. There may be a delay of up to a day, and sometimes longer.

Correlations

I did scatter plots comparing all the variables shown in the first graph and I fitted linear regressions. I present the four scatter-plots that had the highest coefficients of determination (“R-squared”). Continue reading