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Insulating a Greenhouse or Solarium Against Night Time Heat Loss:
This article describes how to ventilate a greenhouse used for solar heating, and how to connect the greenhouse to the house for effective heating. We discuss insulating the greenhouse against night time heat losses, and also we describe how to get warm air or heat from the greenhouse into the rest of the building.
We give suggestions for ventilating greenhouses or sunspaces in hot summer weather, and we describe where to watch out for leaks in greenhouse or sunspace or solarium roofs & walls. Solar Age Magazine Articles on Renewable Energy, Energy Savings, Construction Practices
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
Advice for Insulating a Greenhouse or Solarium Against Night Time Heat Loss
The table of insulation properties at page top and accompanying text are reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss. Our photo at left illustrates a small greenhouse constructed at a private residence in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Question about how to best insulate a greenhouse (sunspace) against night time heat losses:
I plan to convert a carport to a greenhouse / dining room. The brick wall between the carport and the house contains a door to the kitchen and a window to the living room.
How should the greenhouse be ventilated and how should the greenhouse be connected to the house for effective solar heating? - Michael Moran, Clemson SC
Sunspace or Greenhouse Trombe Wall Retrofit Advice for Solar Heating
The brick wall between house and the new greenhouse has the makings of a Trombe wall, with one minor hitch - if it does not receive direct sunlight, its value as a thermal mass that absorbs, stores, and later returns heat is greatly reduced.
Cutting skylights into the carport roof would help the thermal mass wall work better by allowing sunlight to strike it directly.
Our photo (left) shows a large sunspace constructed atop a converted factory building in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The question-and-answer article about greenhouses or solariums on this page quotes-from, updates, and comments an original article, from Solar Age Magazine and written by Steven Bliss.
Sunspace or Greenhouse Air Movement Advice for Solar Heat Design - Getting Warm Air into the Building
To get proper air circulation from the sunspace to the house you will need two vents - one high and one low.
The doorway and window should provide this ventilation, though a high vent can be added if required.
Since natural air convection is relatively week in a one-story building, a thermostatically controlled fan in the wall would give greater control and move even more heated air from the greenhouse sunspace into the rest of the house.
Greenhouse or Sunspace Ventilation - Summer Needs
For summer ventilation of the greenhouse or sunspace, high and low vents to the outdoors usually suffice. A doorway at one end, combined with a high vent at the other end is a common setup.
Another greenhouse solution combines awning windows along the front with operable skylights for roof vents. For accurate sizing for venting and heating of a sunspace, see "The Last Word in Sunspace Design," Solar Age 6/84
Our greenhouse photo (left) was taken in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona, Spain.
Here we include solar energy, solar heating, solar hot water, and related building energy efficiency improvement articles reprinted/adapted/excerpted with permission from Solar Age Magazine - editor Steven Bliss.
Green House or Solarium Roof Leak Points to Watch For
As Carson Dunlop Associates point out in their sketch (left), greenhouses and solariums can be leaky, especially where an add-on solarium abuts the original structure.
Often we can spot these leaks as stains down the building wall below the points of contact between the solarium roof and the building walls.
Watch Out: a solarium or greenhouse leak that enters the wall cavity may not show up immediately as a stain on the building interior, but it can lead to rot, insect damage, or a mold problem
Reader Question: What is the best type and location of vapor barrier for solar greenhouse construction in moderate climates such as Kentucky
First, my hardy congratulations to you for an absolutely fabulous website that gives better detailed help than anything else I have found on the Internet. Thank you for this generous public service.
Across our country there is more and more interest in backyard solar greenhouse construction, yet there is very little expert direction on many of the issues involved.
With the high humidity and warm temps inside these structures, and the emphasis on heavy insulation the issue of vapor barrier/retarder is important.
I have explored your excellent website and the principles you give about the use of vapor barriers is thorough. (Thank you.) However, my question involving paint is not specifically answered hence my email question here.
The South wall is glazed. The North, East, and West walls are stud construction with the layers inside to outside as follows: Hardy board vertical siding, 6 mil poly, studs and unfaced fiberglass R-21 insulation bats, 3/4" OSB, 15# felt, Hardy board vertical siding installed per manufacturer's guidelines.
My question involves paint on the outside and paint on the inside. The outside siding is factory primed with acrylic latex. The manufacturer recommendations are for TWO additional finish coats of exterior acrylic latex paint. I am concerned that this paint will form a vapor barrier that will trap moisture in the walls and dampen my insulation. Is this any concern at all??
Similarly, for reflective purposes, I want to put a light-reflecting paint on the inside walls of the solar greenhouse. Do I need to worry about this painting making the inside wall a vapor barrier?
This solar greenhouse is in Central KY. Some other solar greenhouses have been built in this climate zone with NO vapor barrier other than several coats of latex paint on the inside walls. Do you think this is advisable?
Another greenhouse builder is putting 15 mil aluminum coil stock "carefully overlapped" on the inside of his greenhouse and no other vapor barrier. His reasoning: "If there is no air flow here, I won't have any moisture problems." His greenhouse is in Colorado. Again, I find this idea intriguing, but is it a safe way to protect a solar greenhouse from condensation, mold, and rot?
I would appreciate your expert opinion.
Warm Regards, R.B., Richmond KY
RE: " Hardy board vertical siding, 6 mil poly, studs and unfaced fiberglass R-21 insulation bats, 3/4" OSB, 15# felt, Hardy board vertical siding installed per manufacturer's guidelines"
It sounds as if you are describing wall construction the inside out. If so the poly is where I'd put it too, since a greenhouse will have higher moisture inside in nearly all climates.
RE: your paint question, while I agree that paints form a moisture resistant barrier, a latex paint is the right coating to avoid adding to a moisture trap.
Moisture moves through walls from the more moist area to the less moist area.
Because you've got a good poly barrier on the inside of the wall (between the more moist greenhouse interior and the less moist wall cavity) it sounds to me as if latex on the wall exterior of the wall should not be a problem any more than it would be on an ordinary building that was not a greenhouse.
When you paint the greenhouse interior wall surfaces, I'd stick with a latex paint for the same reasons. Latex paint is more porous or has a lower perm rating (moisture penetrates more easily) than alkyd (modern oils). That will leave your poly as the most moisture resistant barrier in the wall structure. You could argue for painting the interior surface with an alkyd (more moisture resistant) but I think it's a better design to use a paint that has a lower risk of trapping any moisture that finds its way behind the coating itself - latex.
About Kentucky greenhouses built using no vapor barrier other than paint, if we look at comparative perm ratings, paint has a lower perm rating than poly and foil has a nearly zero perm rating.
A design that relies only on paint on the interior of a KY greenhouse may work just fine provided that moisture can continue to move all the way through the insulation and to outside without ever condensing in the insulation. The risk in the no-vapor barrier design is that if the walls are also insulated, in some of your colder months you may well reach the dew point in the insulation, leading to condensation there, and wet insulation, and ultimately even a rot or mold problem in the wall cavity.
The real answer is that the movement of moisture in and out of greenhouse wall cavities ... well it depends on at least these variables:
the amount of moisture in the greenhouse interior air
the use of exhaust fans that may at times place the greenhouse interior under negative pressure with respect to outdoor conditions
the cool weather conditions that the greenhouse will experience
the amount or R-value of insulation in the greenhouse walls
details of wall construction and the care with which all wall penetrations are sealed against air movement in and out of the wall cavity
the exterior wall cladding material and its permeability and contribution to the total wall R-value
- all factors that determine whether or not we reach excessive in-wall-cavity moisture that won't simply dry out when weather changes.
Finally, I agree mostly with your builder who uses aluminum coil stock "carefully overlapped" and I certainly agree with his point about airflow. Moisture movement studies reported at the Boston 1985 Journal of Light Construction building conference confirmed that most moisture movement into and out of building cavities occurs at penetrations where there are air leaks and air movement. Air may move in either direction - in or out of the wall cavity, depending on varying building conditions of temperature, humidity, and even building pressures. No air movement means no consequential moisture movement into the wall cavity in most construction designs.
Further, aluminum coil stock would have a perm rating of zero, except that air could move thorough those overlapped joints unless they were taped with a foil tape.
But in my opinion, for owners who don't want to look at aluminum greenhouse walls, an equally moisture-resistant wall could have been built using foil as the vapor barrier, over which you install a finish paneling or wall covering of your choice. The devil in both cases is in the details: how carefully does the builder seal wall penetrations left for electrical receptacles, switches, and around windows and doors.
But all of the above is my OPINION. By copy of this note I'll invite our solar design expert Steven Bliss for any comments or corrections he may want to offer and I'll post any updates here.
Comments on Greenhouse Moisture Control
In general, as you point out, moisture is much more likely to enter walls via air leakage than diffusion (and most likely to get via exterior leaks due to capillary action, flashing problems, etc.) Air leakage into walls typically occurs around electrical outlets and penetrations for doors and windows, and where the wall finishes meet the floor. Assuming the greenhouse is a fairly moist environment, it would be important to seal these areas well.
If moisture levels are very high and outdoor temperatures low, then diffusion could also play a significant role in the absence of an interior vapor retarder. Using a layer of polyethylene on the interior side of the wall, sealed well at joints and edges with a sheathing tape approved for use with polyethylene (3M Construction Seaming Tape and Tuck Tape are two brands) would work well as both the air barrier and vapor retarder.
With a good seal and effective vapor retarder on the interior, the painted Hardiboard siding should not create any problems.
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Solar Age Magazine was the official publication of the American Solar Energy Society. The contemporary solar energy magazine associated with the Society is Solar Today. "Established in 1954, the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is the nation's leading association of solar professionals & advocates. Our mission is to inspire an era of energy innovation and speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy. We advance education, research and policy. Leading for more than 50 years.
ASES leads national efforts to increase the use of solar energy, energy efficiency and other sustainable technologies in the U.S. We publish the award-winning SOLAR TODAY magazine, organize and present the ASES National Solar Conference and lead the ASES National Solar Tour – the largest grassroots solar event in the world."
Steve Bliss's Building Advisor at buildingadvisor.com helps homeowners & contractors plan & complete successful building & remodeling projects: buying land, site work, building design, cost estimating, materials & components, & project management through complete construction. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Bliss served as editorial director and co-publisher of The Journal of Light Construction for 16 years and previously as building technology editor for Progressive Builder and Solar Age magazines. He worked in the building trades as a carpenter and design/build contractor for more than ten years and holds a masters degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Excerpts from his recent book, Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, Wiley (November 18, 2005) ISBN-10: 0471648361, ISBN-13: 978-0471648369, appear throughout this website, with permission and courtesy of Wiley & Sons. Best Practices Guide is available from the publisher, J. Wiley & Sons, and also at Amazon.com
Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com
John Cranor is an ASHI member and a home inspector (The House Whisperer) is located in Glen Allen, VA 23060. He is also a contributor to InspectApedia.com in several technical areas such as plumbing and appliances (dryer vents). Contact Mr. Cranor at 804-747-7747 or by Email: email@example.com
Passive Solar Design Handbook Volume I, the Passive Solar Handbook Introduction to Passive Solar Concepts, in a version used by the U.S. Air Force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at wbdg.org/ccb/AF/AFH/pshbk_v1.pdf
Passive Solar Design Handbook Volume II, the Passive Solar Handbook Comprehensive Planning Guide, in a version used by the U.S. Air Force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at wbdg.org/ccb/AF/AFH/pshbk_v2.pdf [This is a large PDF file that can take a while to load]
Passive Solar Handbook Volume III, the Passive Solar Handbook Programming Guide, in a version used by the U.S. Air Force - online version available at this link and from the USAF also at wbdg.org/ccb/AF/AFH/pshbk_v3.pdf
"Passive Solar Home Design", U.S. Department of Energy, describes using a home's windows, walls, and floors to collect and store solar energy for winter heating and also rejecting solar heat in warm weather.
"Solar Water Heaters", U.S. Department of Energy article on solar domestic water heaters to generate domestic hot water in buildings, explains how solar water heaters work. Solar heat for swimming pools is also discussed.
"Heat-Transfer Fluids for Solar Water Heating Systems", U.S. DOE, describes the types of fluids selected to transfer heat between the solar collector and the hot water in storage tanks in a building. These include air, water, water with glycol antifreeze mixtures (needed when using solar hot water systems in freezing climates), hydrocarbon oils, and refrigerants or silicones for heat transfer.
"Solar Water Heating System Freeze Protection", U.S. DOE,using antifreeze mixture in solar water heaters (or other freeze-resistant heat transfer fluids), as well as piping to permit draining the solar collector and piping system.
"Solar Air Heating" U.S. DOE also referred to as "Ventilation Preheating" in which solar systems use air for absorbing and transferring solar energy or heat to a building
"Solar Liquid Heating" U.S. DOE, systems using liquid (typically water) in flat plate solar collectors to collect solar energy in the form of heat for transfer into a building for space heating or hot water heating. The term "solar liquid" is used for accuracy, rather than "solar water" because the water may contain an antifreeze or other chemicals.
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones