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EnergyPlus building simulation software:

Which Ground Temperature to use?

Azhaili Baharun, Siti Halipah, Mohamad Omar Abdullah, Ooi Koon Beng*

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS)
Corresponding email:
Many low-energy residential buildings are single-storey, with the floor in contact with the ground.
There is less information about ground temperatures than weather data, thus normally, the former is
calculated from the latter. There are three 'Ground temperatures in the EnergyPlus building
simulation software. The first, the Undisturbed 'Ground temperature in the Statistics and Design Day
weather files and the second Ground temperature from the 'Slab' and 'Basement' preprocessors, are
used in the same input object in the input data file (IDF). The third Ground temperature is given as
an output variable when the ZoneEarthTube object is used in the IDF, and a CalcSoilSurfTemp
preprocessor is available to calculate for three input data viz. the average, amplitude and phase of the
temperature at the ground surface, for predefined conditions at the surface and below. The damping
depth is the depth below which the ground temperature is not affected by variations in surface
temperature. The damping depth due to daily variations in surface temperature is not significant and
thus temperatures below due to yearly surface temperature variations are considered. Descriptions of
each of the three 'ground temperatures is summarized in a table. The assumptions in the derivation of
the three Ground temperatures differ in detail. While the outdoor temperature is used to calculate the
Undisturbed ground temperatures, solar radiation, moisture evaporation at the surface and relative
humidity of the outdoor air are also used by the CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor. The indoor condition
of the building also determines which set of ground temperatures to use. The Slab and Basement
preprocessors are meant for buildings where the indoor is conditioned. The discussion includes
analysis of some derived ground temperatures. A chart is proposed to approximate ground
temperatures using surface and deep ground temperatures.
Keywords: EnergyPlus, Chart, Ground temperatures, Surface and deep temperatures

A researcher using EnergyPlus to find the effect of the ground/earth/soil in the passive cooling
of buildings may find its three 'Ground temperatures confusing. The first Ground temperatures are the
'Undisturbed' ground temperatures at 0.5, 2 and 4 meter depths given in the Statistics (.stat) and Design
Day (.ddy) files that accompany the EnergyPlus weather (.epw) file, with typical meteorological year
(TMY) data that can be downloaded from the primary website The second ground
temperatures are from the 'Slab' and 'Basement' preprocessors. These first and second set of monthly
averaged temperatures, are entries into the Site:GroundTemperature:BuildingSurface object of the
EnergyPlus Input Data File (IDF). The third Ground temperatures are those output from simulations that
use the ZoneEarthTube object.
The collection of weather data, mostly at international airports, over the last 20-30 years, has
enabled a set of hourly weather data for a typical meteorological year (TMY) at most World
Meteorological Organisation (WMO) or the U.S. World Bureau Army Navy (WBAN) stations. However,
the temperatures below the ground, where the floor or basement of a building may be in contact with, are
not so readily available. Thus, ground temperatures are normally calculated from weather data files.

gave the formula for damping depth of D = (2/) where , the thermal diffusivity
(thermal conductivity divided by specific heat) is assumed constant, and is the frequency of temperature
variations at the surface.
While Anna Houston et al
gives descriptions on how to experimentally determine thermal
conductivity, Givoni
gives descriptions on how to experimentally determine the thermal diffusivity.
also states Soil temperatures, as a function of depth and time, is usually expressed as a
sum of one or more exponentially damped sinusoidal temperature waves. The formulae for the
temperature waves are solutions to the heat equation in which the ground is considered as a semi-infinite
solid with a plane surface at a uniform temperature. If the ground surface temperature is known or can be
estimated, its temporal variation is the boundary condition. The three parameters in the temporal
variations are the average temperature at the surface, the amplitude (or minimum) surface temperature
and the time the minimum temperature occurs. The thermal diffusivity of the soil is also used to find the
ground temperatures. Figure 1 shows the Undisturbed Ground Temperatures that use a standard thermal
diffusivity of 0.002322576 m
/day from the Energyplus statistical (.stat) file.

Figure 1. Undisturbed Ground Temperatures from weather data and 0.002322576 m
/day thermal
diffusivity. Source: Plotted from data in the statistics (.stat) file of typical meteorological year weather data.

Based on Norfzigers formula, the damping depths due to day and year variations of surface
temperatures are compared in Table 1 for the soil thermal diffusivities used in the calculations of the first
set of monthly averaged ground temperatures and the four predefined soil conditions below the surface
used in the CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor.

The damping depth due to daily variation is less than 16 cm and EnergyPlus calculations usually
use monthly averaged values in a years variation.

Table 1. Damping depths for the thermal diffusivities used in EnergyPlus.
Soil Condition (Type,
moisture content) below
, Thermal Diffusivity
Damping Depth for
day variations, D
Damping Depth for year
variations D
0.002322576 0.0278 0.5311
( for calculating Undisturbed Ground temperatures in .stat and .ddy files)
(Heavy soil, saturated) 0.0781 0.1575 3.01
(Heavy soil, damp solid
0.055728 0.1332 2.545
(Heavy soil, dry) 0.04458 0.1189 2.2715
(Light soil, dry) 0.024192 0.0877 1.675
Source: (summarized from EnergyPlus v7 Documentation by ooi koon beng, 2012)

A summary of the features/data for the three ground temperatures in EnergyPlus, the method to
derive the ground temperature or the average, ground surface temperature for the Earth Tube object,
the software object where the ground data is used and the type of building where this feature is
applicable, is given in Table 2. ODT is the outdoor dry bulb temperature. Descriptions of each of the three
Ground temperatures are given in the following subsections.

Table 2. Ground temperatures, method to derive the ground temperature, where the data is used or
shown, and the building where this ground temperature is applicable.
# Feature/ground
temperature data
Method to derive this
ground temperature
Object/variable where
data is used/shown.
Building where
feature is applicable
1 Monthly Undisturbed
'ground temperatures at
3 depths given in .stat
(Statistics) and .ddy
(design day) files.
Based on Mean monthly
ODT, minimum ODT and
date of minimum ODT, of a
TMY and a constant soil
thermal diffusivity.
object of the input
data file (IDF).
Naturally ventilated
or free running
2 The average ground
temperatures at the
outside faces of floors or
basement output by the
Slab or Basement
These 3-D heat transfer
preprocessors assume a
constant indoor air
temperature throughout the
object of the input
data file (IDF). .
To find the energy
to condition the
indoor air to a
3 Ground temperatures at
the outside face of the
earth tube, in contact with
the ground.
Uses the average, amplitude
and phase of the surface
temperature for 8 predefined
surfaces and 4 predefined
soil conditions below
Ground Interface
temperature output
with simulations that
use ZoneEarthTube
When Earth Tube is
used to precool or
condition the air for
ventilating the
Source: (original table by the author, ooi koon beng, March 2012)


Statistics from the typical meteorological year (TMY) data is given in a .stat file. The monthly
averaged outdoor temperature (ODT), the minimum ODT and the time of the minimum ODT are used as
the temporal variation stated by Givonni. Using a soil thermal diffusivity of 0.002322576 m
/day, the
Undisturbed ground temperatures, Feature 1 in Table 2, were shown in Figure 1. The EnergyPlus team,
with purported references to T. Kusuda (1971
, 1967
) work gives the exponentially decaying
temperature wave that describes the Undisturbed 'ground temperatures at three depths. The amplitude of
the sine wave is half of the difference between the maximum monthly mean and the minimum monthly
mean outdoor temperature.

The above Undisturbed ground temperatures are based on ground without the building over it. If
there is a building over the ground, the 'Ground temperature could be different because the building
covers the ground and the temperature on the indoor face of the floor is that of the indoor air and not that
of the outdoor air. These Undisturbed ground temperatures may be used as the
Site:GroundTemperature:BuildingSurface for naturally ventilated or free running buildings.

2.3.2 Ground Temperature from Slab and Basement Preprocessors

The Slab and Basement preprocessors will calculate the monthly ground temperatures on the
outside face of floors or basements, in contact with the ground. These are also used in the
Site:GroundTemperature:BuildingSurface object. The purpose of these 3-D heat transfer preprocessors is
to enable a more accurate calculation of the energy required to condition the indoor air to a setpoint,
normally the comfort temperature. By default, EnergyPlus computes for the dynamic heat transfers
through the planar building surfaces using 1-D heat flow algorithms.

For large floors, EnergyPlus can also give separate ground temperatures at the Core and
Perimeter of the slab. EnergyPlus documentation (Auxiliary Programs) also reports that a 4C range in the
daily indoor air temperature variation may not have any significant effect on the heat fluxes through
floors. Iterative use of these preprocessors would give better results of temperatures at the inside and
outside faces, and thus more accurate energy for conditioning the indoors.

Since EnergyPlus version 6, users may use the Detailed Ground Heat Transfer group of objects
instead of these two preprocessors. This means that the 12 monthly averaged (mean) ground temperatures
output from the preprocessor are automatically transferred to and entered into the 12 fields of the
Site:GroundTemperature:BuildingSurface object within each simulation run. The fields in the
GroundHeatTransfer:Control object enable the user to control whether the Slab or Basement preprocessor
is to be executed during a simulation run.

2.3.3 Ground Temperature on the outside surface of EarthTube, output from a simulation.

The following fields of the ZoneEarthTube object in the Input Data File (IDF) require mandatory

Soil Condition, around the earth tube. Select from 4 predefined soil conditions, given in Table 1.
Average Soil Surface Temperature {C}
Amplitude of Soil Surface Temperature {C}
Phase Constant of Soil Surface Temperature {days}

The average, the amplitude and the phase of the approximated sinusoidal annual temperature
variation at the ground/earth/soil surface can be found by the CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor, for eight
predefined (four each for Bare and Covered) surfaces, and four predefined soil conditions under the
surface (around the earth tube), for any location defined by the EnergyPlus weather (.epw) file.

The CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor considers the solar radiations during the day, longwave
radiations at night, and relative humidity in the outdoor air and the rate of evaporation of the moisture at
the surface. EnergyPlus Engineering Reference
gives the indicated fraction of the evaporation rate, f,
which depends mainly on the soil cover and the soil moisture level.

Figure 2 shows the average, amplitude and phase of the soil surface temperatures from the
CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor, for the 8 predefined soil conditions at the surface, for Heavy and
Saturated Soil condition below. When the surfaces are Covered, the annual average temperature of the
surface is higher than those when the surfaces are Bare and there is no difference between annual average
temperatures for Covered and Bare surfaces when the surface is dry. What is not shown is that the
average surface temperature is not affected by the soil condition below.

Figure 2. Average, amplitude and phase of Soil Surface Temperatures with CalcSoilSurfTemp utility.
Source: Plotted from data output by the CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor using Kuching weather data.

Figure 3 shows the Amplitude of the Soil Surface Temperature for 4 soil conditions (Type of soil
and moisture) around the earth tube.

Figure 3. Amplitude of Soil Surface Temperature for 4 soil conditions (type of soil and moisture) around
Earth Tube. Source: Plotted from data output by the CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor using Kuching weather data.

1) Figure 4 shows that there are insignificant differences of the ground temperatures at 0.5 meter
depth for the thermal diffusivities used for the Undisturbed ground temperatures and the four predefined
soil conditions around the earth tube.

Figure 4. 0.5m deep Undisturbed Ground Temperatures for five thermal diffusivities. Source data using
the Fortran formula that calculates the Undisturbed ground temperatures in the .stat file.

2) Figure 5 shows the maximum, average and minimum monthly mean Ground temperature, after a
simulation run using a small (0.05m radius) object Earth Tube, with zero air flow, surrounded by Light
and Dry Soil, under Bare and Wet Surface, for Kuching, at depths down to 10m. The ground surface
temperatures are from the CalcSoilSurfTemp preprocessor. Givonni (1994) has also shown that at 10 m
depth the temperatures do not vary and this depth can be considered deep.

Figure 5. Maximum, Medium and Minimum Ground temperatures at various depths. Source: Charted from
Outputs of simulation runs using the ZoneEarthTube object.

Measurements in Kuching in September 2011 (Ooi, 2011)
show that the peak temperature of
turfed surfaces can be up to 7C lower than the outdoor temperature. Measurements in Singapore in
November 2001 by Wong (Chan, 2008) show that the peak daytime temperature of turfed surfaces are
also lowered by up to 7C if covered by shrubs, and the temperatures of shrub covered turfed surfaces
during the day are about 2C higher than those at night. The maximum monthly mean temperature being
1.6C and 2.2C higher than the minimum monthly mean temperature for Kuching and Singapore
respectively, show that the measured ground surface temperatures are close to twice the 2.5C amplitude
of the monthly mean temperatures for bare and moist surfaces calculated by the CalcSoilSurfTemp pre-
processor shown in Figure 3. Verification of the calculations requires long term measured data.

When data on surface temperatures with thermal diffusivity of the soil is available for a year, the
maximum, average and minimum temperatures at various depths can be obtained from a chart. Hopefully,
this paper would help to save the time of new users in their research into the use of the ground
temperatures for passive buildings.

Linda Lawrie of DHL Consulting LLC, member of EnergyPlus development team, for providing the
Fortran formula in the Weather preprocessor that calculates the undisturbed ground temperatures in the
.stat file.

Michael J Witte of GARD Analytics for clarifications on the use of Slab and Basement preprocessors and
other EnergyPlus developers/users for their contributions in the yahoo forum.


[1] D.L. Nofziger, Soil Temperature Changes with Time and Depth: Theory,
[2] Anna Houston, Grant Tranter, and Ian Miller, Temperature Waves, viewed 15
February 2012.
[3] Givoni B. (1994) Passive and Low Energy cooling of buildings Van Nostrand Reinhold
[4] T. Kusuda, Earth Temperatures Beneath Five Different Surfaces. Institute for Applied Technology,
NBS Report 10-373, 1971, National Bureau of Standards (NBS), Washington DC 20234
[5] T. Kusuda, Least Squares Technique for the Analysis of Periodic Temperature of the Earths Surface
Region, NBS Journal of Research, Vol 71C, Jan-Mar, 1967, pp 43-50.
[6] ASHRAE Handbook of HVAC Applications (Table 4, pp 11.4)
[7] EngineeringReference, EnergyPlus Documentation v7.
[8] Ooi K.B 2011. The use of Dynamic Thermal Modelling and simulation in designing a comfortable
passive Malaysian Building. PhD Thesis, Civil Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
[9] Chan, S. A. (2008). Green Building Index - MS1525.Applying MS1525:2007 Code of
Practice on Energy Efficiency and Use of Renewable Energy for Non-Residential
BuildingsKuala Lumpur: Pertubuhan Arkitek Malaysia.CPD Seminar 14
February 2009. 22
August 2011