In the U.S, buildings account for about 40% of primary energy use and 40% of C02 emissions. Improving energy conservation and efficiency is important for individuals today, but more so, for future generations. One way to increase efficiency is through accessible information for individual homeowners. This summer, physics and environmental studies double major Anna Mowat ’18 is tackling this issue by studying the heating efficiency of residential buildings. Her goal is to develop an accurate model that helps understand and improve the efficiency of residential houses. The research is supervised by Professor of Physics Seth Major.
Mowat’s research consists of two parts. First, she built a general theoretical model of home’s heat loss that predicts energy usage for heating. The model has calculations for heat loss, based upon four main types of building heat loss, including conduction, convection, radiation and infiltration loss (draftiness). Using knowledge from geometry, material science, and thermodynamics, the heat loss can be calculated and predicted. The model uses local climate data received from weather almanacs, and related to a series of other variables, such as inside house temperature and insulation types.
Second, Mowat and Major are visiting participants’ houses and collecting data, including energy usage, the house’s geometry and insulation materials. They also conduct a blower door test. The test is able to determine the airtightness of the building based upon pressure difference between inside and outside as a fan blows the air inside. Entering this data in the model helps determine the accuracy of the model, and to give us insights into how to improve the model.
To put the model into practical use, Mowat and Major hope to write a smartphone app to help homeowners determine the next best step in improving the energy efficiency of their houses.
Mowat likes the fact that the research involves both experimental and theoretical physics. She has also enjoyed hearing feedback from participants: “My inbox was flooded by potential participants as soon as we sent out an all-employee email, and I continue to get more responses each day. People seem interested in what our research hopes to do,” she remarked.
Mowat will continue the project with Professor Major during the fall semester while she participates in Hamilton’s Adirondack Program. After the project Mowat hopes to do more work with applied physics. She is especially interested in tidal and solar energy.