Sunday, 27 October 2019

Visit Matsumoto Passive House

"International Passive House Open Days" is an annual opportunity to visit Passivhaus and low energy buildings around the world. This year it is held between 9th and 11th November. 

You can find a building near you from Passivhaus international's database here.

If you're in Japan, click here for information from Passive House Japan about buildings that are open.

If you're interested in visiting a non-certified Passivhaus in Matsumoto 9th or 10th November, please fill in this form.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Low Energy Building: Thursday 10:40 from 26th September

I never seem to be ready for my classes in the second semester. The Japanese academic year begins in April. The students break for summer at the beginning of August and come back for more at the end of September. In theory I have a holiday of almost two months, but in practice there is plenty to do, from grading and syllabus design to library maintenance and academic publishing. So in theory I would be focused on research and lesson preparation and be completely ready for my lessons when they come around. But in practice the lack of clear and immediate deadlines means I am free to venture down elaborate rabbit holes of negligible relevance. For example, last year I spent a week investigating ornithopters. If you're not sure what an ornithopter is, you should google it. Or perhaps not. 

By early September when the hottest of the summer heat has passed, I'm ready to start teaching again. By the end of September, when the bell rings for the first class of the second semester I am in a state of panic. The only redeeming factor is that I am more prepared than many of the students!

My low energy building class is in the second semester, which makes it a victim to my lack of self-discipline and focus. The course is more-or-less set, the lesson plans made and the powerpoint presentations ready to press play. Good teaching requires effort from the teacher, since students will copy what they see others do rather than listen to what they say. This applies not just to students, but all primates. If the teacher is lazily regurgitating old knowledge then the students will do the same. If the teacher is looking for new information, questioning existing opinions and searching for new ways to engage with people and with knowledge, then the students will do the same. At least that's the hope. 

The stated goal of the class is the same: teach students how physics applies to buildings. The hidden goal is the same: indoctrinate students into Passivhaus.

The story needs to start with energy. First we'll talk about what it is, then how it moves, and then how it moves through complex wall structures. Then we can talk about windows and how heat can be lost and gained through them. Windows 2.0 will cover the complexities of multi-pane windows.

At some point we need to talk about air and water, since humidity control is critical for human comfort and building health. We also need to talk about human comfort in general and look at what buildings are supposed to do. I'm not sure of the best order to tackle these two topics. Humidity is part of the answer to the question of comfort, and talking about humidity first will make it easier to understand. Anyway, these two lessons are mostly independent from the five pure and applied thermodynamics lessons above and could interleaf between them, providing a bit of an air gap to make the lessons on windows less of a pain. 

Cooling is another topic to cover, once the basics of thermodynamics and humidity have been established.

Power generation is another important topic, that can also be introduced at any time. Since power conservation is a higher priority, it's probably best not to introduce this too early and make it seem too important. It may also be a good idea to have a second lesson with details of solar generation requirements, constraints and optimisation.

Once all of this has been covered, we can look at building standards in Japan and around the world. 

That will take us up to fifteen lessons, with an introductory lesson, and one lesson for presentations and another briefing the students on how to give a presentation.

It would also be possible to have a whole lesson on Passivhaus, another on heating, another on thermography, and one on retrofitting. There are perhaps another dozen topics that could be addressed. For the past few years I've wanted to give a practical demonstration of how a heat pump works, using the students as molecules in a Carnot cycle bound by desks in the classroom.

Throughout the course I hope to teach problem-solving strategies, and give them some practical applications of mathematics. Hopefully the numbers will mean something by the end of term. Critical thinking is a skill I think they need.

It would be nice to cover some philosophy of architecture. In many countries architecture courses are twice the length of regular degrees since students must cover both technical and aesthetic fields, making the discipline both an art and a science. Even then, some buildings seem to have been thrown up with no respect for science while others are constructed with no sense of beauty. In Japan architects can be qualified after two years in college, and I can't help feeling that some buildings have been put up neither in the interest of science not art, but just to keep the construction industry going!

Monday, 29 April 2019

47 views of scaffolding

I started off taking pictures of our house as they were building it. Then the scaffolding came to obscure my view.

In this pictues, you can see where they added an airtightness sheet around the upstairs floor, which becomes very difficult to make airtight after the walls have gone in, if your airtight layer is inside the structure.  

Then they started covering the scaffolding with sheets.

This happened all around the house.

Other, greater buildings are blighted with scaffolding. Here is an old building in Athens which I believe Victorian engineers tried very hard to "repair" by straightening all the lines on the structure. It turns out it had been carefully designed with non-straight lines so that it would look right.

I remember visiting Tokyo Disneyland and seeing the centrepiece, Cinderella Castle, surrounded with scaffolding, which had been carefully covered with sheets depicting the castle. I wasn't sure whether this made the building seem more real or more fake.

Here is another view of our house.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Changing groups

Time to shuffle the students a bit.

The lesson on windows went well, and I think the estimation of the room's window U value was not too overwhelming for the students. This was partly because I had structured the problem solving a bit more. Scaffolding is also very helpful in the construction of knowledge. Also I had them change groups at the beginning and tried to get mixed skill sets together.

I had put them into groups in week four and it's a good idea to change after two or three weeks have passed. The dynamics of groups have been characterised by the stages of Forming, Storming and Norming. After norming we hope for performing, but instead it can get boring! Changing groups every week is a bit too disruptive, but leaving the same groups for too long risks unfairness for people who have ended up in a dysfunctional group as well as a missed opportunity for having the students meet more people and make more friends.

The first time I put them into groups, I began by asking everyone these questions:
  • What is your major?
  • Are you good at maths?
  • Are you good at English?
  • Are you good at drawing?
  • What is your favourite subject?

Then I asked them to make groups of four, with different majors, different favourite subjects, and new friends. I told them that maths was going to be useful, so if they weren't good at maths they should find someone who is. Also, if possible, I wanted different nationalities and mixed genders. The class is about 85% Japanese and 70% male, so this was not going to happen with every group.

In the first couple of weeks, and in previous years, I had tried to have Japanese-speaking and English-speaking groups, but last year I realised that resulted in me having a false sense of the English level of the room, and some parts completely lost. Spreading out the English speakers means they can work more to mediate between my English explanations and instructions, and the Japanese of the students who often have more interest in, and aptitude for, the topic.

Three weeks later they were still more or less in those groups of four, but a group of women had formed in the back corner of the class, and I'm sure the same couple of architecture students had been sitting next to each other every class. It's not really bad to sit next to the same person every week, but a changing environment is conducive to learning since memories are formed by connections and associations. Also they may meet some new people.

So I asked them, within their groups, to first decide who was best at writing. Next, I asked who was best at English. The writer then had to write down those names. Next I asked who was best at communicating. If it was their best English speaker, they should choose the next best English speaker as their English speaker. Finally I asked who was best at mathematics, and if it was their best communicator or best English speaker, they should choose a different best communicator or English speaker.

Then I shuffled the deck by having each writer stay put, each English speaker move around the class clockwise to the next group, the communicator move two groups clockwise, and the mathematician move one group anti-clockwise. I figured the mathematician would be able to handle the negative number. As usual, I had to do some traffic direction, partly because there was one group in the middle of the class, and it wasn't completely obvious which way was clockwise and which was anti-clockwise.

Now I had a high chance of diverse groups. They had all worked in different groups before and would hopefully bring the best experiences into the new group.

When it came to calculating the U value of the windows, I asked them to pick a leader, a designer, a calculator and a checker.

I reminded them of the problem solving steps:
1. Formulate problem, ideally drawing it!
2. Plan a strategy, making sure they write it down!
3. Find equations
4. Find data, but not until they had done the first three steps
5. Calculate
6. Check
7. Check again

After a while I reminded them about surface resistance, then gave them some equations, thermal conductivities and dimensions.

A little later, as I wandered the class looking at their calculations, I noticed a couple of U values of over thirty for the glazing, which looked way out. I went back to check and noticed I'd given them the wrong value for conductivity of air by a factor of ten. It should be 0.024 W/Km but I'd given them 0.24. A great example of how everyone makes mistakes, and how important checking is. Making mistakes is not a problem in itself—everyone does that!—you have to realise when you have made mistakes, and then fix them.