Does your living room floor have more in common with a prairie grassland or a desert? Are our basements really just urban versions of caves?
As we explore the life that coexists with us in our houses, we begin to think of our homes as ecosystems. With our thermostats, fans and insulated windows, we are creating a distinct habitat within our homes. But what kind of habitat are we creating, exactly? Are there natural, wild places on Earth that share similar climate conditions to those we are creating inside our houses?
We are currently trying to figure this out! Using data from environmental loggers installed in 50 homes throughout the United States last spring and worldwide terrestrial climate datasets, we are trying to figure out whether there are places on Earth that resemble the climate inside our homes.
Soon, we’ll be analyzing data collected this past summer and fall from the houses (we just recently downloaded a big batch of data), but in the meantime, we’ve taken a preliminary crack at the puzzle. As a first step, we searched the world for places that match the maximum, minimum and average temperatures in each of our 50 houses for the month of March. Of course, temperature alone is an oversimplification of climate, but it does give us a great place to start.
So far, we’ve found real world matches for five of the 50 houses we’ve tracked! For the homes in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Nebraska, Virginia and Hawaii, we were able to locate places in the world that have the same temperature patterns as the inside of these homes in March.
So, where might the folks in these houses travel to find a climate that is similar to their homes?
Well, to begin with, the mild climate in Mindelo, a port city on Sao Vicente, one of the Canary Islands in Cape Verde, might feel vaguely familiar to the residents of the home we monitored in Pennsylvania! Meanwhile, folks from a certain home in Virginia might find that the temperature in Mpanda, located in western Tanzania, feel something like home. A region in Malawi, close to the city of Mzuzu, matched closely with temperatures in a home in Mississippi, while temperature in a part of Turkey, east of Istanbul, matched closely with a home in Nebraska. Finally, temperatures inside a home in Hawaii appear to resemble those near the Witjira National Park in the center of Australia.
Our current criteria for matching climate might be an oversimplification, but looking at the map, it’s hard to ignore a possible coincidence: the climate we appear to prefer inside our homes, seems to match up with the places on earth where early Homo sapiens roamed. Kind of cool! Coincidence or not, its likely that the climate that early humans experienced as they evolved, might still shape our temperature requirements and preferences today.
We still have a lot of work to do to try to characterize indoor climate. So far, we’ve only used temperature for a given month to look for matches. And yet we know that climate is much more than the average temperature or humidity in a place. Climate also takes into account the fluctuations in temperature that occur over the course of the day and across seasons.
Stay tuned for updates as we gather more data and continue to explore the more intricate details of the indoor climate!
Lauren Nichols is a research assistant and lab manager for the Dunn Lab at NC State. When she’s not in the field studying how climate change affects Eastern deciduous forests, you can find Lauren peering into a microscope identifying the myriads of ants submitted by School of Ants participants.