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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
My house at Manilla, NSW, is in a climate with temperatures that are extreme, but comfortable on the average. To reduce extreme temperatures indoors, the house contains more than a hundred tonnes of thermal mass within a shell of insulation.
The “thermal mass” is the materials, such as bricks, stones, concrete, earth or water, that have high thermal capacity (See Notes below): they take in and give out a lot of heat.
Many people, who can see that having thermal mass inside a house will help to keep it warm in winter, think that the thermal mass will make it hard to keep the house cool in summer. They see many brick and brick-veneer houses in which thermal mass is exposed to the intense heat of the summer sun. In that case, thermal mass material does no good.
In this graph, I have used my last twelve months of temperature data to show the benefit of well-insulated thermal mass in summer as well as in winter.
Outdoor temperature in this year went as low as minus 4.0° Celsius and as high as plus 43.7°: a range of 47.7°. Continue reading
See also “One Year of House Performance: I”.
Like the graph in the post linked above, this is a log of indoor and outdoor 7-day mean temperatures at my low-energy solar-passive house at Manilla, NSW.
In place of the curves for normal air temperature and comfort zone limits, this graph includes two (raw value) logs of subsoil temperature at 750 mm below the surface. The green trace is the subsoil temperature outdoors in the garden. The orange trace is that below the middle of the main floor slab. The mass of material below the slab is surrounded by insulation at the edge so as to form a “heat bank”.
This graph is a log of indoor and outdoor 7-day mean temperatures at my low-energy solar-passive house at Manilla, NSW. Indoor mean temperatures are in red, and outdoor mean temperatures in black. Both logs show the same cycles of temperature with a period of two to three weeks. Indoor cycles have a much smaller amplitude.