Day-to-day life exhibits examples of physics

Posted Sept. 26, 2008, at 9:27 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:59 a.m.

There are some things that are trade secrets that people use in their day-to-day life and business. Mine is physics. Not the Albert Einstein, E=mc2 type of theoretical, lots-of-math-and-calculus physics, but rather the observed day-to-day stuff that we all tend to take for granted.

One morning this week I drove up Route 1A along the Penobscot River to Bangor. There was a little frost on the windshield, just enough to hint at what is yet to come. When the river came into sight, there was a plume of fog that seemed to emanate vertically wherever there was river. It hung over the river and forced me to wonder what is going on there. What was happening was the relatively warm river water vapor was rising off the river into the cool air and creating this beautiful fog.

Water is part of everything we have in this life. We are 95 percent water, and water permeates pretty much everything we contact to some degree.

As I went up a little farther on 1A and started to pass through some of the villages, the river was out of sight, but another moisture feature caught my attention. There was dew on the roofs of the houses that had asphalt shingles. And there were areas where the distinct outline of the house structure was very visible, just like a drawing.

On some houses it was dew and on some it was frost. It was just cool enough to show this. The frost or dew was dried off where there was more heat loss. Those areas were where there was a lack of insulation, usually due to a lot of wood framing that spanned from the inside of the house to the outside. When this situation occurs in construction, we refer to it as thermal bridging. We have an uninsulated “bridge” that shunts the heat out of the house very efficiently, upping our heating costs.

This is sometimes evident on the side walls of houses, also. Energy people love to look at this. Ah, physics in action!

Another issue we will be dealing with all too soon is frost action. You will notice the frost forming on the grass before it shows up on bare, dry dirt. Those blades of grass are tiny cooling fins that elegantly intermingle with the cold night air and condense out the water that is in the nighttime air.

These kinds of simple phenomena are things that we see every day of our lives that we often overlook. The old-timers, people who lived closer to nature and the land than we do today, probably never even heard of physics. They just knew what nature foisted upon them in their daily lives, and through hardscrabble experience and the lore of generations, usually had a pretty good sense of what the laws of physics did to them on a daily basis.

We can use these clues to help us improve our homes and businesses for more efficient use of energy and safer living and maybe relive and appreciate some of the lessons of the past.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.

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