Writer: Karen Meisenheimer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Michael Annucci, (352) 392-5684
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- University of Florida researchers are closely examining how harsh Southern weather affects the average home, hoping to determine, for example, how to produce roof shingles that last as long as they do on homes in the North.
To test sunlight on shingles and hundreds of other variables, a test "home" recently was built using a variety of products found in the typical Southern house, said Michael Annucci, senior electrical technician with UF's Energy Extension Service, part of the university's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"It's important to do this kind of testing out here -- in real Florida and not in a lab," Annucci said. "Currently, the specs for materials are based on Northern climates. But consider that the largest portion of the world's population lives in this type of climate."
The building, located at UF's Energy Research and Education Park just off campus, consists of 14 individual rooms, allowing scientists to test hundreds of different variables at once. Funded by CertainTeed Corp., a Philadelphia-based building materials manufacturer, the project also will study how different materials and installation techniques affect the building's overall power consumption as well as general maintenance.
Based on the data collected, experts can develop products that can better withstand the South's humid, scorching conditions. The company also hopes to use the findings to help update state and national building codes, said David McCaa, a senior research associate with CertainTeed.
To reach these findings, more than 400 sensors throughout the structure connected to a main computer give readings every five minutes, recording data such as temperature, moisture levels and humidity. On-site weather also is monitored, with computers recording outside temperature, wind speed, relative humidity and the irradiance of the sun.
After eight years of testing building materials in a moderate climate at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, CertainTeed was interested in looking at the effects of more extreme weather conditions, McCaa said. In addition to the Gainesville home, the company built an identical one in Duluth, Minn., with the University of Minnesota.
Although the prototypical home looks more like a long, window-less storage shed, the materials and methods used in the design represent construction products currently on the market, said Seth Hughes, an Energy Extension Service engineering technician monitoring construction to make sure things are being done as they would be in a residential project.
Along with two types of shingles covering the roof, the building includes two kinds of siding and three varieties of insulation. It is positioned on the property so the heat load from the sun is distributed equally, Annucci said.
The 8-by-20-foot rooms, or bays as the scientists call them, are identical in size and shape; however, half have concrete-slab floors with steel trusses and studs while the other half have wood floors and crawl space with wooden trusses and studs. Half the research bays have cathedral ceilings, and the other half have flat ceilings. "It's interesting example of industry working with the university to develop and enhance their products to be more suitable in a Southern climate," said Robert Stroh, director of UF's Shimberg Center for Affordable Housing who helped bring the project to UF.
Although researchers have only just begun to collect data from the test home, they have noticed some informal evidence over recent months, including the effects of a sudden decline in temperature on the roof's shingles.
"We recorded temperatures on the roof of 160 to 170 degrees," Stroh said. "During a normal afternoon rain storm, we saw the temperature on the roof drop 80 degrees in less than five minutes. That puts a great deal of strain on the shingles. This is exactly the kind of event we are going to look at closely."
Hughes said other studies will include how or if heat is transferred from the metal studs used in the trusses into the living space, how moisture travels into a home and where it goes, how the air velocity in an attic may affect temperature or humidity and whether attic vents actually do any good. "We have a potential to measure anything that a person may want to know," Hughes said.
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