Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project

Ready to Transform

From costume contests to coding classes, the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project takes on a new form everyday.

In the past weeks, the team has been designing a Pod which is a small dwelling or dorm that 3rd-years use for sleep and storage. The Pod will be used to test the Optimal Tuning Theory. The team presented the Optimal Tuning Theory and their current pod design at the annual Rural Studio Halloween Review. Unfortunately, all of you lovely readers were not able to make the review, so this post will be dedicated to explaining the Optimal Tuning Theory and showing off the teams Halloween Review Costumes.

What is the Optimal Tuning Theory?

First, let’s get a couple of definitions out of the way, what are Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation? Thermal Mass is a property of the mass of a building which enables it to store and release heat. A typical example would be an adobe home or pueblo where the thick, earthen walls absorb the hot, desert sun during the day keeping the interior space cool. Later during the cold, desert night the thick, earthen walls release that heat into the interior thus warming the space. Buoyancy Ventilation, often refereed to as the “stack” or “chimney” effect, utilizes the natural ventilation cycle of hot air rising and cool air falling to supply air to a space without mechanical systems.

The Optimal Tuning Theory theorizes that a space can be comfortably and passively ventilated, heated, and cooled by coupling an internal Thermal Mass with Buoyancy Ventilation. If these systems are synchronized or “optimally tuned” it would allow architects and builders to use the ancient practice of Thermal Mass building in a more predictive manner. The typical issue with Thermal Mass buildings is that the Thermal Mass is never able to release all the heat it absorbed in the day, therefore the cycle does not start over the next day and the passive system does not work efficiently. By keeping the Thermal Mass on the interior, shaded from the sun and insulated, and using Buoyancy Ventilation to draw out access heat or supply heat from the air, the system is able to reset for the next day. The Optimal Tuning Theory is the crux of the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project.

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team will build a Pod as a scientific instrument to test the Optimal Tuning Theory. A Pod is an appropriate, human scale that they can test the temperature and air flows of easily and can be inhabited by 3rd-years later on.

Now for the real magic, Rural Studio’s own Transformers! Each TMBVRP team member transformed into a classic Rural Studio vehicle. From left to right starred: Livia Barrett as Andrew Freear’s Honda Fit including his front license plate that reads “British Nut;” Rowe Price as the crisp, new Student Truck; Cory Subasic as Hale County Classic Tractor fit with hand wheels; and Jeff Jeong as our beloved Johnny Parker’s beloved BobCat. The team came second in the local costume contest, but Jeff won Best Pumpkin! Thanks for TUNING in, we hope to see you at Soup Roast!

Of Local Interest

Howdy from the new center for Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research in Newbern, Alabama!

The team is fresh off their first presentation with reviewers Kim Clements and Joe Schneider. Kim and Joe are the founders of J.A.S. Design Build in Seattle, Washington. They helped the team develop a clearer way to explain the thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation theory.

The team reviewing the review on Monday morning.

Eventually, the team will be publishing a paper, with their partners at McGill University. The paper will aim to speak to architects and builders who could implement the thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation system in their buildings. Reviews with folks like Kim and Joe will help the team learn how to communicate best with the design and construction world.

The chosen materials, their components, and their processing

Besides preparing for their first presentation, the team has been working on material research. A crucial part of the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project is understanding the embodied energy of their construction materials. The team will study exactly what goes into the making of the materials from harvesting natural resources to transporting the finish material to the construction site. Timber, brick, rammed earth, and concrete are the materials the team are considering for the thermal masses. To limit energy lost to transportation and as an investment in Alabama, the team is investigating local material manufacturers within the state.

Speaking of local, here in Newbern, the Hurricane Lilies are still in bloom, Rural Studio students are stealing all the sunshine, and a shark must have been spotted downtown. From the T.M.B.V. Research Project Team to you, keep it real and real local!

Thermal Mass & Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project

Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project Team: Livia Barrett, Rowe Price, Cory Subasic, and Jeff Jeong

Greetings from newest Rural Studio Research Project with the longest name!

The Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project is testing a new theory that properly proportions an internal thermal mass to promote ventilation, thus moderating the temperature of the space. The team will use the theory to design, build, and test a building to understand how the proportional theory works in the field. The theory is the work of Salmaan Craig, an engineer, designer, and current professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The team will be working closely with Salmaan and his colleague at McGill, architect Kiel Moe. In addition to promoting ventilation, another goal of the thermal mass is to explore how it can incorporate other components of the building that are typically separated (i.e., structure and interior systems). The thermal mass itself will be made of only one material. Limiting the number of different materials in the projects allows the team to understand the emergy of each material being used.

Cory, Rowe, and Jeff have morning coffee with trusted consultant, Livia’s dog, Copper

First, the team will plan a large-scale project to understand the program and materials it will need. Next, a pod will be designed, built, and tested to act as a microcosm of the large-scale project to understand how the strategies perform. These results will inform the design and construction of the large-scale project as to best apply thermal mass and buoyancy ventilation.

Some key terms to help understand the T.M.B.V. Research Project:

  • Thermal Mass: The ability of a material to store heat during the day and radiate it slowly back at night.
  • Buoyancy Ventilation: Referred to as the “stack effect”; natural ventilation driven by the difference in exterior and interior air density resulting from temperature and moisture difference.
  • Emergy: The amount of energy that was consumed in direct and indirect transformations to make a product or service
Cory and Jeff help fill form work for the Mass Timber Breathing Wall Pod

The team has been researching materials and construction methods for building a thermal mass. They also got the chance to work with the Mass Timber Breathing Wall Research Project Team pouring concrete for their pod.

Stay tuned to learn more about the Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation Research Project!

Please check out the paper, The optimal tuning, within carbon limits, of thermal mass in naturally ventilated buildings by Salmaan Craig to learn more about Thermal Mass and Buoyancy Ventilation. Find it here: