Cutting Edge Insights
with Dr. Lee

You Can’t Make Pizza in a Freezer… and You Can’t Make Ice Cubes in an Oven

…yet we keep trying!

Cold.

Cold is not a “thing.”

You can feel it, even as you read these words: winter is coming!

But cold is not a thing.

Cold is a physiological feeling/response/reaction.

There is no “cold.”  There is only heat, and different amounts of heat.
A complete lack of heat occurs at absolute zero, which is -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.

That would feel cold.

Although theoretically possible to reach, absolute zero is impossible to attain. Anyway, no molecular activity exists at this theoretical level.

As humans, we’re accustomed to dealing with environmental temperatures in the 0° F to 100° F range. Appropriate indoor thermal comfort occurs at an average of 70° F, with some variation between individuals. See Ashrae Standard 55 at www.ashrae.org for more information on indoor thermal comfort. This is the gold standard.

The act of providing indoor thermal comfort is a never-ending ordeal of moving heat from where it is to where we want it. You can’t move cold. But you can move heat. Sometimes we move it in, sometimes we move it out.

Q:  Then how does my air conditioning system work?

A:  It removes heat from the air and distributes the resultant air (containing less heat but still containing heat) throughout your enclosure (house, office, etc.). Doing so also removes humidity from the air, which helps the air to be more comfortable.

Q:  But cool, humid air makes me feel really cold! How does removing humidity help?

A:  There is an optimal temperature and humidity range for appropriate indoor thermal comfort. The optimal indoor humidity range is 30% – 50%. For more information, see my video series on indoor air quality. Or Ashrae Standard 55.

Q:  How do you explain me holding an ice cube? Seems like moving cold to me!

A:  You removed heat from water to make the ice cube. You add heat to the ice cube when you hold it (from the surrounding air and from your body). You can’t move cold.

Q:  What is the message for real estate investing and development?

A:  See below.

Certain things in construction are done because either “they’ve always been done this way,” or “it’s more convenient to do them this way,” both of which are stupid reasons for doing things. And stupid reasons for making decisions that affect thermal comfort, energy efficiency, your utility bills, and the environment.

For example, consider what happens when you run ductwork in the attic to save space (and money when you’re building). The attic is an oven in the summer with temperatures approaching 150° F. You try to push cold air through the ducts to provide appropriate thermal comfort.  How easy is this to accomplish?

It’s easy in the sense of quick and cheap, but it’s stupid in the sense that there is a dramatic temperature gradient between the hot attic and the ductwork within which you are attempting to transport cooler air. Not only will your cooling system lack efficiency, it also won’t cool your home very well. You will not be comfortable.

Don’t do this. You can’t make ice cubes in an oven.

Q: Is there a workaround?

A: Yes, extend your thermal boundary to the roof. Not economical on existing structures.

Here’s another example – you’d be tempted to think that Texas never freezes. It’s hot, even armpit-hot to a Michigan person like me. But climate zones only predict which is likely to happen most of the time, they don’t dictate what can’t happen.

We all know what did happen in early 2021 – an arctic blast froze most of the state and homes lost electricity, water lines in crawl spaces froze, chaos ensued. Property was damaged or lost.

Since Texas is a hot/humid climate, its building codes may not require that water lines be located within the thermal envelope of the home.  Maybe your home was built decades ago and has water lines in a leaky, uninsulated crawl space.

Fix it. More absurd climate events will occur. It’s not a matter of if.

A variation on this is a home built with a partially insulated crawl space. I know this well – my home, a single story ranch, has two crawl spaces. The home has a central ½ basement of about 1,600 sq ft and an 800 sq ft crawl space at each end of the house. (Why oh why oh why would one not want more basement space? Maybe digging was expensive in 1969.)

The crawl spaces were built with vents to the outdoors. Three in each. (A house has to breathe, right? Wrong.) 

The idea was to open the vents in the summer for ventilation (to discharge humid air) and to close them in the winter to keep the cold air out.

There was only one problem…the vents leaked. When they were operated as they were intended, there was no way they could perform as intended. The idea was a failure at conception.

How warm do you think the floor surfaces of the rooms above the crawl space were, in the winter? Right. Gimme a break.

Do you think the heating system was able to efficiently transport conditioned air through those ducts? The answer is no.

Q:  What was your solution?

A:  I extended the home’s thermal envelope to the outer crawl space wall. I blocked up the vents (actual masonry blocks and mortar). I placed R-10 worth of insulation on the inside of the outer wall. I added a dehumidifier in each crawl space. I added a supply and return duct in each crawl space for conditioning, air exchange, and filtration.

Problem solved!

You can’t make a pizza in a freezer. So don’t try. 

This week’s topic was prompted by a confluence of observations and circumstances in the past few days:

Thing 1:  I keep reading about how the real estate market is hot.

Thing 2:  I keep reading about our country’s housing shortage.

Thing 3:  I keep reading about our country’s lack of affordable housing.

Thing 4:  I happened across an article discussing the possible end of the Amazon rainforest (see below). If this happens it will begin an unending cascade of events in the global warming cycle.

Thing 5:  I was discussing with someone how I designed plans and now have plans (meaning both blueprints and agenda items) to build a very low energy, very airtight, new 3-bedroom home to sell for well under 200K.  The response:  I can get the same thing in the city for slightly over 100K.

My rebuttal:  The money you save on your mortgage payment might cover your extra utility bills. But probably won’t. And being new, my house won’t need anything (maintenance, improvements, etc.) for years – even decades – to come.

I win.

As you think about that, remember that resilient, energy efficient construction pays you in many ways. And also makes mother earth happy.

For a deeper dive on solving some of the more annoying problems present in older homes, or for help designing the tightest and most efficient home you will ever live in, reach out at Lee@DrLeeNewton.com.

For information on how to invest in real estate safely and profitably, download our eBook below.

Until next time,

Dr. Lee Newton

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You Can’t Make Pizza in a Freezer… and You Can’t Make Ice Cubes in an Oven

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