Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

To control SPAM, you must now be a registered user to post to this Message Board.

EFFECTIVE 14 Nov. 2012 PRIVATE MESSAGING HAS BEEN RE-ENABLED. IF YOU RECEIVE A SUSPICIOUS DO NOT CLICK ON ANY LINKS AND PLEASE REPORT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION.

This is the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy's Message Board. Wright enthusiasts can post questions and comments, and other people visiting the site can respond.

You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening, *-oriented or any other material that may violate any applicable laws. Doing so may lead to you being immediately and permanently banned (and your service provider being informed). The IP address of all posts is recorded to aid in enforcing these conditions. You agree that the webmaster, administrator and moderators of this forum have the right to remove, edit, move or close any topic at any time they see fit.
DRN
Posts: 4240
Joined: Mon Jul 10, 2006 10:02 am
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

Re: Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

Post by DRN »

In my experience with the Sweeton house, I've found the house to be an energy hog, plain and simple. In the winter it is an elegant heated tent. The surface area of a long narrow house with not a lot of insulation and a lot of glass area is not efficient to heat.

Wright designed the house on a tight budget. The exterior walls are a single wythe of 8" CMU with some vermiculite in the cells which has sunk to the bottom (Wright noted an option for two wythes of 4" CMU with an insulated cavity between, which was beyond the Sweeton's means); the windows are all 1/4" plate glass in pine sashes (no weather stripping-I'd have to rout the sashes), the only weather stripping is the copper strips in the main entry door and what I installed at the kitchen jalousie door (what the weather stripping saves the jalousies giveth away).

As heat rises, I addressed the roof insulation when we replaced ceilings. The roof is framed with 2x6's, between which I inserted 4" of foil faced polyiso board and tacked sill sealer foam on the rafters for a thermal break with the gypsum board (yes, Wright used a gypsum board ceiling on this one, albeit with sand finish paint). This replaced 2 inches of rockwool batting. The new roof insulation reduced our heating fuel consumption by a third! In fact, after insulating the roof, I discovered that the partitions and walls heated by the floor act as "thermal bridges" which project the house's floor plan onto the roof in a light snow or heavy frost...I'll post a picture. This is heat loss, but the prospect of cutting redwood plywood walls that provide lateral bracing for the bedroom wing, and working thermal breaks between the masonry wall tops and existing roof sheathing was beyond my means. It should be noted, without the radiant floor, the workshop's exterior walls are not warmed and their "ghosts" do not show on the roof snow or frost.

The radiant heat truly is necessary in a scantily insulated house like this. It is true the radiant floor heats the elements of the room and its occupants not just the air. Because all is warm, my body is not radiating its heat to cold surfaces unless I stand or sit close to a window. In the below grade workshop, we had a failure of the radiant floor and chose not to replace it. Instead we ran a radiant baseboard off the main which keeps the room 60ish in the winter...I use a small electric radiator to get the room temperature up to 70, but I'm still chilly because the floor and wall are still cold. The difference in the sense of warmth between the workshop and the adjacent radiant floor heated bedroom is striking.

I've never noticed much heat loss from the fireplace though I suspect the masonry heated by the floor slab is radiating quite well above the roof. The 24"tall plate steel raised grate I had made to hold the fire up off the hearth to improve draw heats up and retains the fire's heat well into the next morning after the fire has died down....this may off set some of the loss, but I doubt it.

SDR
Posts: 21092
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

Post by SDR »

Dan provides a photo of Sweeton:

Image

SDR
Posts: 21092
Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Re: Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

Post by SDR »

"The difference in the sense of warmth between the workshop and the adjacent radiant floor heated bedroom is striking." It's not often an architect or engineer gets to experience this difference directly, in the same building and at the same exterior temperature.

DRN's nifty fireplace equipment:

Image

Image

Image

jay
Posts: 407
Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Re: Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

Post by jay »

As always Dan, thanks for detailed response. Very informative. The photo of your roof in the snow really illustrates the nature of thermal transfer.

One wonders, if building anew, what additional measures would be necessary to achieve a more acceptable efficiency in the Usonian concept...? Seems to me that the nature of radiant floor heating could open to creative ideas of how to best utilize it––not by taking the attitude of a traditional hermetic approach––but of a more elaborate thermal mass scheme.

The other upside of a radiant floor heating system is that, theoretically, it could easily be run on electricity. And if this country gets its act together and provides adequate green electricity, there's no reason why the Usonian couldn't run entirely on green energy, minus the wood for the fire.

Roderick Grant
Posts: 11116
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Re: Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

Post by Roderick Grant »

DRN (or anyone), generally speaking - and it would undoubtedly differ based on the structural material of the house - is there a difference in effectiveness between heating systems for houses with a full basement or without one? The Minnesota house I grew up in was frame (zero insulation) with a poured concrete basement. The forced air furnace did its job handily, with no thermal discomfort upstairs or down, save the floor of the basement. (Of course, the thermostat was always set at 65 for day and 60 for night, no 70 degrees for us hardy Norwegians.)

DRN
Posts: 4240
Joined: Mon Jul 10, 2006 10:02 am
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

Re: Alternatives to fireplace as psychological center of home

Post by DRN »

I grew up in a 1968 raised ranch house with a masonry wall/slab on grade first floor and a frame second floor. My father had the builder locate the kitchen and dining functions to the lower level to keep guests on the ground floor...thus most of the day to day living was on the first floor. The house was heated with hydronic baseboard convectors. The first floor could be chilly in the winter (the floor was ice cold the first 4' in from the exterior wall) and stayed cool in the summer if blinds were kept closed. The second floor was fine in the winter, but could become beastly hot in the summer...no real cross ventilation and single hung windows only opened about 6"....every surface seemed warm to the touch. A 36000BTU wall A/C unit with a box fan in the bedroom hall kept it tolerable. The first floor could actually become chilly during the summer with conditioned air falling down the stairwell. Childhood friends in standard ranch houses with finished daylight basements had very similar experiences with respective floor levels.

Thermal mass is a significant factor in the situations I described.

A frame construction mounted atop a basement (particularly one with a boiler or ductwork running through it) will stay warmer in the winter than a slab on grade room having an uninsulated, unheated slab. The frame floor has a 50ish-60ish degree environment beneath it to keep it from getting too cold, and it has little if any thermal mass exposed to the exterior cold to overcome. Shut the heat off and the frame house will cool down at a rate dependent upon the amount of insulation and effectiveness of the weatherstripping. Most frame houses are heated via the air they contain, and that warmed air typically doesn't have the energy to overcome the thermal resistance of a massive element like a floor slab. Water has a greater mass than air and is better able to carry and transfer heat to a massive element such as a concrete floor slab than warmed air. The heated mass of a floor slab retains its heat longer than a room full of air...it takes longer to initially heat, and longer to cool down.

Post Reply