The Climate Inside

Our houses modify the climate around them. In great densities, our houses and other buildings can change weather patterns. Urbanization increases temperatures. It can also affect storms. Atlanta, Georgia actually causes lightning to form that would not otherwise exist. If one wanted evidence that we were messing with Zeus, this seems to be it. Cities change the weather outside, but what about the weather inside?

A single house on its own can create new climate conditions, conditions far different from those outside the front door (We love to be comfortable). But just how different? Ecologists have spent centuries characterizing the climate outdoors but very little time describing that indoors. In order to understand the climate of the new biome we have created, we have worked with fifty citizen scientists to sample the climate inside and outside of fifty houses, one in each state.

Collage of images of iButtons sent in by participants in the climate-logger study

iButtons record climate data in 50 states. Collage of photos contributed by participants.

We recently began processing the first three months of data collected between March and June 2013 (and a side note: we’d love to hear your creative ideas about visualizing these data).¬† Below are the results for three homes: one in North Carolina, one in Nevada and one in South Dakota. These are just three houses, but already a few anecdotes stand out. ¬†Although the indoor environment is less variable than the outdoor one (we expect this to be true in every house), it differs from one house (or region) to another. In addition, we’ve found that while temperature and humidity vary relatively independently outside (you can have a hot dry day or a hot humid day or a cold dry day or a cold humid day), temperature and humidity are very correlated indoors.

The indoor biome seems far more complex than we might have imagined. It is complexly a function of outdoor conditions and maybe cultural differences in what we view as comfortable among regions, although this will be more clear once we look at all fifty states. It is interesting to notice that in North Carolina (where I live), when the temperature increased in the spring outside, it did inside as well (We don’t mind it hot). Folks in different regions seem likely to cope, to different extents, with the heat. You might predict the same would be true for the cold. However, at least for these first three houses folks seem to keep their homes about the same temperature in the winter whether in South Dakota or North Carolina. In both places, the mean annual temperature is about that of the Mediterranean, our own little indoor fertile crescent without the olives or the rain.

In the figure below, the blue line shows indoor temperature, recorded every hour. The red line shows the more variable outdoor temperature. In the coming weeks, stay tuned for the other forty seven states.

By |2016-11-22T13:47:20-05:00August 5th, 2013|

About the Author:

Rob Dunn
Rob Dunn is a biologist and writer in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University. Central to all of his work is the sense that big discoveries lurk not only in faraway tropical forests, but also in our backyards and even bedrooms. The unknown is large and wonderful and Dunn and his collaborators, students, and postdocs love to spend their days in it.

One Comment

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    Marty Giles August 5, 2013 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Fascinating stuff–thanks so much for taking this project on and for sharing it!
    I do hope that people reading the data keep in mind that climate in many states varies greatly within that state–in my state for example (Oregon), the cool, breezy coast is far different from the near-desert eastern/central region. I would find a map–with fairly large dots to retain anonymity–to be very helpful.
    Looking forward to seeing more!
    (BTW, it’s “Celsius.”)

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