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 Temperature Requirements for Train Room

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
rca2 Posted - 12/01/2014 : 11:23:34 AM
Hi everyone: I didn't see a thread on this topic, so I am looking for advice. My future train room is an unfinished 13' by 13' workshop attached to my garage. Right now it is a wood frame construction on a concrete slab with the interior studs and rafters showing. (Just like my garage.) Before I go shopping for an HVAC solution for the room, I need to figure out my goal for the room temperature.

I live in Southern Arizona. The temperature typically swings 25 degrees during a day. Sometimes more. Lows typically range down to the 30's (F) in the winter and to 110 (F) in the summer. That is typical, not the worst cases.

First question: Do I need to condition the space or will ventilation be enough? Don't laugh. The laundry room is not conditioned and outdoor swimming pools are not "winterized" here.

Second question: If I do control the temperature, what temperature range is required? I will be using DCC power and wireless throttles. While I operate fine in 100 degree F, ordinary electronics don't.

I would rather spend money on the layout than the room. As the workshop is already wired, HVAC is potentially the largest renovation expense by far.

At the most rustic level, I could only condition the space to reduce the extremes. For instance use a space heater when temperatures dropped into 30's and use an exhaust fan during the summer months to move the worst of the hot air outside. But I am concerned that daily 25-degree swing in temperatures will lead to a lot of avoidable track maintenance due to expansion and contraction.

Thanks for the help. Bob.

10   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
rca2 Posted - 12/08/2014 : 3:58:26 PM
Thanks Neil. That is a good suggestion. I thought of using foam as much as possible but was thinking of a wood frame, but I won't be able to use foam everywhere if I include a helix.

Based in part on the great information and advice in this thread, I am going to make space for a layout in the house instead of the workshop. I will still have large swings in humidity, but seasonally, not daily. (Dry heat and humid air conditioning.) Two swings a year is a lot less stress than daily swings in humidity.
Neil M Posted - 12/08/2014 : 06:18:11 AM
Something that might be worth considering is making your layout frame from the modular aluminium extrusion framing and extruded insulation foam boards because neither are affected by humidity. Plenty of the modellers here use it because of the big swings in climate in Australia.

rca2 Posted - 12/03/2014 : 03:07:56 AM
This has been a great help. My thanks to everyone.
jbvb Posted - 12/02/2014 : 08:26:30 AM
In the Northeast, the biggest dimensional changes I've seen were in CDX plywood which the lumberyard had been storing outside. The birch plywood a lot of people are using these days doesn't look like it gets stored outside, but generally it's wise to buy lumber & plywood months before you use it. Then store it flat or on edge in the space in which it will be used, so its moisture content changes *before* you cut it. Masonite is vulnerable enough to humidity that lumberyards can't store it outside anyway.
With either material, painting all surfaces before you assemble them is a good idea.

The worst 'humidity kinks' I've seen were cured in 5 minutes with a Dremel cutting disk and a few spikes. Just remember that any track which is going to be hard to see/access should be built and left to stabilize for a while (maybe even a year) before it gets buried beyond reach.

The worst 'structures coming apart' problems I've seen have been associated with ACC. My first wood/cardstock structure is over 40 years old and intact, but I built it with Walthers Goo and painted it. My second was a Suydam diesel house which I also did with Goo, but never painted. It disassembled itself in the first 20 years. My oldest built with white glue (and painted) is now about 10 years old with no issues.
rca2 Posted - 12/02/2014 : 01:24:07 AM
Thanks Mark. Unlike a basement, this room is not near any conditioned space. In fact I will have to put in a separate system. I planned on laying track on thin sheets of cork on plywood and mostly L-girder benchwork. I could use foam instead for large areas of the layout, but I am going to have a helix. Is there any advantage to masonite vs. plywood? I am guessing plywood would shrink and expand less. Bob.
MarkF Posted - 12/02/2014 : 12:36:22 AM
James gives some good information. I know here in the northeast, most of us build our layouts in the basement. While normally a basement isn't part of a houses HVAC system, generally there is enough ventilation in the house that the temperature doesn't vary too much. However, to James' point, humidity does, especially is a basement which it typically subject to dampness.

In my case, a good dehumidifier does a good job of keeping the humidity fairly stable. However, in the winter when the heater kicks in, the air dries out sometimes too much, lowering humidity levels. Since most of the products we use in layout construction are porous, they will change (expand and contract) with changing humidity levels. The 'kinking' track James refers to is when the humidity level drops and dries out the wood, causing it to shrink. Neeless to say, rail doesn't shrink like that, so we tend to see kinks as a result. It's not the track expanding, its the wood shrinking!

So yes, if you plan to build a layout, kits, etc., as well as spend time in that room, the investment of a good HVAC system and humidity controls is a great idea and could save you a lot of frustration down the road.
rca2 Posted - 12/01/2014 : 9:44:47 PM
Thanks jbvb. I guess I will price humidity controls as I plan on building some wood structures and cars.
jbvb Posted - 12/01/2014 : 5:12:37 PM
Normal humidity variation mostly affects things made out of wood and cardstock - both materials will expand/contract with changes, which I've seen break ACC bonds used to assemble structures. This is less of an issue with more flexible glues, like contact cement. If humidity ever reaches condensing levels, it may damage electronics, but I doubt that will be an issue in AZ.

High ambient temperatures can be an issue with high-power DCC decoders in poorly ventilated locomotive bodies. If a loco feels warm after an hour of operation at 72F, it may start to melt plastic parts after an hour at 110F. Computers and some other electronics may be less reliable if routinely operated above 90F ambient.

Some resins used in equipment & structure kits may change shape slowly at 110F. Some casting resins, glues, paints and the like may have a shorter shelf life if stored above 90F. Some of these also require between ~60F and ~80F for a timely cure.

I've seen track laid at one extreme of environmental conditions spring out of line (like a 'sun kink' on the prototype) when conditions reach the other extreme. This can be avoided by taking care to leave 'expansion joints' in long lengths of rail.

My attic layout goes from ~40F and 30% relative humidity in the winter to ~100F and 95% humidity in summer. So far this hasn't damaged anything, but it is one reason why I'm more likely to build models out of styrene & metal than wood, card or resin. But either extreme does make it a lot less pleasant to work on or operate my layout. I have to be careful about hydration at 100F and not let sweat drip on whatever I'm working on. And I had to put off pouring an Envirotex river till winter was well past.
rca2 Posted - 12/01/2014 : 4:16:32 PM
Ed: Humidity. Yikes. I hadn't expected it to be a problem in the desert. The humidity varies more than the temperature, typically a spread of 50% between average highs and lows. Although we don't get a lot of rainfall, we do get clouds bringing air significantly more humid than the dry sunny days. Virtually never does the relative humidity stay in that tight range.

Insulation is relatively cheap. The roof is already reflective and insulated.

Is the humidity problem condensation? Are there materials I can avoid using to reduce the importance of controlling humidity?

The "pleasant comfortable personal temperature year round" guidance probably won't apply to me. I play outdoor soccer year round so I am very comfortable in 60 degrees during the winter and 90 degrees in the summer. Typically I set the thermastat in the house to 68F in the winter and 85F during the summer. Is that range okay?

Thanks. Bob.
emccamey Posted - 12/01/2014 : 12:02:05 PM
Yes, temperature changes will create problems. A greater problem is changes in humidity. I'd size HVAC equipment to maintain a pleasant comfortable personal temp year round and most importantly keep humidity ranges between 45% to 55% (prefer 52%-55% if reasonably affordable). THINK INSULATION.

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