Building physics in beehives

In the past, building physics hardly played a role in the observation of beehives and hives. This is surprising, because we have all the necessary knowledge and calculation methods from house building to get a picture of the processes in the hives.

For example, we can estimate the thermal insulation of honeycombs, we can understand the flow of water and find the areas of potential condensation, and much more.

I especially think the differences and parallels between tree hollows and bee hives are fascinating. In tree cavities, such as, the thermal insulation of the tree and the buffer effect of wood/honey lead to constant temperatures and humidity. The humidity is partly buffered in the cold season and in the summer it is dissipated by ventilation of the bees. Due to the high thermal insulation, condensation occurs only in the lower edge areas.

In bee hives, however, there are large fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. In the thin-walled bee-hives no considerable buffer of the wood is available. The honey supplies are presumably mostly only enough for the winter need of the colony and offer likewise no buffer. In these hives the water condenses because of the small outer thermal insulation already in the honeycomb construction.

We can illustrate many aspects already with methods/calculations of building physics. To get a more correct idea of the data in the tree hollows I started a small project in the living tree.

The ventilation situation is also exciting to look at. In tree hollows there is no ventilation, which is not stimulated by the bees. In modern hive systems there are large air changes with open floors with negative effects on the thermal insulation of the bee cluster.

Finally, water vapour diffusion can also play a key role. In the case of thin-walled magazine hives, it can help to cut the relative humidity, which is too high. An example of this is the D-lid.

Geometry of tree caves & bee hives
Geometry of tree caves & modern hives