Science ideas for young children: Keeping your house warm

Although it is cold outside, it’s warm in your house. Are there things you can do to keep it even warmer and save money? Experiment with your kids and find out!

Although it is cold outside, it’s warm in your house. Are there things you can do to keep it even warmer inside and save money? With some thermometers, you can conduct experiments with your kids to determine where heat is leaving your house.

The most helpful tool for this experiment is an infrared thermometer or “temperature gun.” This simple tool allows you to quickly determine the temperature at a distance. I have found them on sale for as low as $15 or you can invest in a fancier one for more than $100.

To start exploring the science behind heat loss with your kids, begin by asking them some questions and follow up with quick experiments. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. What do you think are the coldest spots inside house? Or the warmest? Is it warmer near the floor or the ceiling? Once you’ve discussed this, go around the house and use the thermometer to determine where those cold spots are. Check in corners, the ceiling, the floor, the basement, the sump pump, by the hot-air vents and cold air returns.
  2. Are there spots where heat is “leaking” out of your house? Determine this by walking around outside the perimeter of the house and seeing where the warmest spots are. Check windows and doors, soffits and vents, especially the dryer vent if it is running. Brainstorm if there are ways you can “keep” that heat inside.
  3. How much heat is lost through windows? Are there areas of the window that are colder than others? Does it matter what side of the house the windows are on? Do different window coverings, such as blinds or curtains, change the temperature? Are all window curtains the same? Find the answers by hanging different materials over the windows, such as blankets, bed sheets or sweatshirts and see what happens. Do the edges of the windows have a different temperature? Does it matter if the window is locked? The University of Wisconsin-Extension has great information on window energy treatments for those interested in learning more.
  4. How much heat is lost through the doors? Check both the inside and outside to determine where the hot or cold spots are located. If you have a screen door, does that provide any thermal protection? Can you do anything to prevent heat loss through doors? The University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension can provide some helpful tips!
  5. How much heat do different appliances in your home produce? Use the infrared thermometer to measure how hot different things are. What do you think is producing the most heat? Check the stove, microwave, toaster, washer, dryer, television, computer and other appliances. Check light bulbs as well, particularly if you have different types.

After conducting these investigations with your children, work out a plan to help make your house warmer and more energy efficient. Think of ways the kids can help, such as helping to insulate the house or treating doors and windows. As an added incentive for their assistance, you could let them determine what kind of fun family activity you will spend the savings on!

Michigan State University Extension recognizes there are many opportunities for science education that occur in the natural world, including this one with heat loss in the home. This lesson can be conducted by any group working with children, including families, day cares, schools or 4-H clubs. Good luck staying warm this winter – try using some of these science-based inquiry questions to help in the process!

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