17 Things

Some building materials have a very useful characteristic beyond just making a floor or a wall: the ability to store heat and coolness and release it back into the home when it is needed. This is called “thermal mass”. Other building materials are light and more suited to tropical environments.

No 7. Density of Building Materials

The 17 Things

What Is It?

Some building materials have a very useful characteristic beyond just making a floor or a wall: the ability to store warmth and “coolth” – cool comfort in hot weather.

The building materials with this characteristic have what is called “thermal mass”. These materials are usually dense, like brick and concrete, and that is no coincidence, as density in building materials is always linked to thermal mass.

Dense materials (“thermal mass”) are most useful in regulating internal temperatures when they are located on the inside of the house and insulated from the exterior.

Thermal mass

How thermal mass can work (in most of Australia except Top End) to store heat and coolth and release when needed.
Image source: Your Home www.yourhome.gov.au

These materials, whether internal brick walls or concrete slab floors, have the ability to absorb, store and later redistribute this energy when it is needed. If the house is anywhere but in the Tropics with hot humid summers, warm winters (for information specific to the Tropics, select the “Climate Zone: Top End” tab on this page), and there is unshaded north-facing glass, in winter the sun will directly and indirectly heat the dense walls and/or floor during the day. These will absorb and store this heat for several hours, slowly releasing it during the late afternoon and evening when you need it.

Conversely, in summer, if the windows are well shaded, the dense walls and floor will absorb heat from inside the house during the day, providing a cooling effect. If windows are opened in the cool of the evening and overnight and there is good cross-ventilation, then the heat will be released from the house over several hours, ready for the same cycle the next day.

While the most common use of bricks nowadays is in an external brick veneer, these really act more like a “light material” as they are located on the outside of the house and so they have a very minor role in regulating internal temperature.

How will it help me reduce my running costs and increase my comfort?

In winter a warm building (walls and/or floors) feels very different to a building in which the air is warm but the building is cool; this is known as radiant heat. The same principle applies in reverse in summer; we have all lied flat out on a cool concrete slab during summer time!

If dense materials are in appropriate places in a house, they will act to regulate internal temperatures and reduce your reliance on mechanical heating and cooling to deliver a comfortable internal night time temperature. If the dense materials are in correct relationship to the rest of the house (as described above), they form part of a passive design strategy.

Passive design can provide delightful natural comfort, and reduce or even eliminate the need for artificial heating or cooling energy.

If the home can be partially or wholly heated and cooled without the use of artificial energy, the running costs will be dramatically reduced. This has several obvious benefits, both to the home owner and to prospective purchasers.

 

What professional should I talk to about this?

The Centre for Liveability Real Estate always recommends you consult further with any relevant specialist design or building consultants or assessors before making any decision regarding your specific property based on the Liveability Property Marketing Features™.

Most architects and building designers, and an increasing number of builders understand the role of thermal mass in passive design, and are skilled in the techniques needed to build dense materials into the most appropriate places. They include HIA GreenSmart builders and designersMaster Builders Green Living buildersBDA and BDAV (VIC only) building designers.

Finding the potential in existing homes is not difficult, especially if the house has “good bones” – good basic materials and a layout or orientation that can be easily altered to take advantage of the density of existing parts of the home.

Is there anything I need to know before I meet with them?

Steel frame

Knowing the basics is a good start – such as what frame your home has been built with.
Image credit to ©iStock.com/Wicki58

Knowing the basic structure of your home is a good start. A professional will be able to determine that in any case, but if you think about it first it will give your discussions a head start. Being clear about what you want to achieve is important, and having a clear understanding of the basics is important so you can have confidence they know what they are talking about.

Changing the materials used in your home will require renovation so having any existing plans of the house will also help them conceptualise a design solution.

What is the price range I can expect?

A detailed appraisal of your home may take a couple of hours, depending on its size and accessibility to roof and subfloor. Further work will be highly variable according to your brief (the expression and record of what it is you want and need). Allow upwards of $300, pending inclusion of a broader assessment of other issues (refer to other items in the list of the 17 Things™).

Where can I find more information?

There are several good sources for further reading, but the single best place to start is Your Home: Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homeswith its excellent introduction to density of materials in passive design.

If you’re keen for a discussion of the long running debate about the relative thermal performance of lightweight and high mass (dense) buildings, an e-book called How to Rethink Building Materials will be of interest.

If I already have this feature, is there anything I need to know about using it effectively?

Brick veneer wall

Internal brick walls.
Image credit to ©iStock.com/ chandlerphoto

Many homes have concrete slab floors (including most brick veneer houses built since the 1980s), and quite a few have internal brick walls (all full brick or cavity brick houses).

Insulating the house is a good first step, or replacing old degraded insulation. Roof and ceiling insulation are often easy and insulation will help protect the home from external temperatures, ensuring internal comfort is regulated.

Shading windows from sun is another easy fix. If hot sun is allowed to penetrate the house for long it will cause overheating of the thermal mass, which may cause discomfort for hours after sunset.

Opening windows when the evening cools down, and leaving them open to some extent overnight (with security features added if necessary) will allow the hot air to escape before the next day starts. This is called “night purging”.

Does this work better when combined with any of the other 17 Things™

Different climates require different types of building materials to be able effectively respond to seasonal climate changes, so No. 7 Density of Building Materials (thermal mass) works best for most climates when the climate zone of your property is taken into account. To be really effective thermal mass (the ability to store and release heat around the home) should be combined with No. 3 Orientation and No .6 Insulation. No. 8 Windows is also extremely important to further control how much heat and cold you let in or keep out.

Will this feature be recognised when I sell my property?

Yes; Liveability Real Estate Specialist sales agents and property managers have been upskilled to identify an additional 17 Things™ on top of a standard property appraisal. So if you have invested in any of the 17 Things™ this means your property will be appraised and marketed with real skill and with the best marketing resources for online and print media.

You can book a free property appraisal with a Liveability Real Estate Specialist any time you’re ready to sell or even if you’re not planning to sell for a couple of years. Each of the 17 Things™ has appraisal benchmarks (relevant to existing and new homes) which have been set by relevant industry partners to make sure we deliver a high standard of property marketing. So your Liveability Real Estate Specialist will work through this appraisal checklist with you as they move through your home. It’s a great chance for you to let them know about all the property features you have invested in.


Any questions?

We’re here to help! Just send us your enquiry.

What Is It?

Some building materials have a very useful characteristic beyond just making a floor or a wall: the ability to store warmth and “coolth” – cool comfort in hot weather.

The building materials with this characteristic have what is called “thermal mass”. These materials have the ability to absorb, store and later redistribute this energy when it is needed.  Thermal mass can be a liability in hot humid climates because it stores unwanted heat during the day and will slowly re-release this heat at night. Thermal comfort is usually a high priority in these climates.

This is why lightweight materials (low thermal mass) with insulation are very desirable as they respond quickly to cooling breezes provided by effective cross-ventilation and air conditioning. In summer, if the windows are well shaded, the dense walls and floor will absorb heat from inside the house during the day, providing a cooling effect. If windows are opened in the cool of the evening and overnight and there is good cross-ventilation, then the heat will be released from the house over several hours, ready for the same cycle the next day.

How will it help me reduce my running costs and increase my comfort?

If light materials are in appropriate places in a house, they will respond quickly to cooling provided by cross-ventilation or air-conditioning to deliver a comfortable internal night time temperature. If the light materials are in correct relationship to the rest of the house (as described above), they form part of a passive design strategy.

Passive design can provide delightful natural comfort, and reduce or even eliminate the need for artificial heating or cooling energy.

If the home can be partially or wholly heated and cooled without the use of artificial energy, the running costs will be dramatically reduced. This has several obvious benefits, both to the home owner and to prospective purchasers.

What professional should I talk to about this?

The Centre for Liveability Real Estate always recommends you consult further with any relevant specialist design or building consultants or assessors before making any decision regarding your specific property based on the Liveability Property Marketing Features™.

Most architects and building designers, and an increasing number of builders understand the role of thermal mass in passive design, and are skilled in the techniques needed to build dense materials into the most appropriate places. They include HIA GreenSmart builders and designersMaster Builders Green Living builders and BDA building designers.

Finding the potential in existing homes is not difficult, especially if the house has “good bones” – good basic materials and a layout or orientation that can be easily altered to take advantage of the density of existing parts of the home.

Is there anything I need to know before I meet with them?

Steel frame

Knowing the basics is a good start – such as what frame your home has been built with. Image credit to ©iStock.com/Wicki58

Knowing the basic structure of your home is a good start. A professional will be able to determine that in any case, but if you think about it first it will give your discussions a head start. Being clear about what you want to achieve is important, and having a clear understanding of the basics is important so you can have confidence they know what they are talking about.

Changing the materials used in your home will require renovation so having any existing plans of the house will also help them conceptualise a design solution.

What is the price range I can expect?

A detailed appraisal of your home may take a couple of hours, depending on its size and accessibility to roof and subfloor. Further work will be highly variable according to your brief (the expression and record of what it is you want and need). Allow upwards of $300, pending inclusion of a broader assessment of other issues (refer to other items in the list of the 17 Things™).

Where can I find more information?

There are several good sources for further reading, but the single best place to start is Your Home: Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homeswith its excellent introduction to density of materials in passive design.

If you’re keen for a discussion of the long running debate about the relative thermal performance of lightweight and high mass (dense) buildings, an e-book called How to Rethink Building Materials will be of interest.

COOLmob also has information on designing for the tropics  that include building materials.

Your local council and state or territory government may also have free information available for you to download, such as the Queensland Government and their tips for smart and sustainable homes. Make sure to look out for resources specific to the tropical climate.

If I already have this feature, is there anything I need to know about using it effectively?

Insulating the house is a good first step, or replacing old degraded insulation. Roof and ceiling insulation are often easy and insulation will help protect the home from external temperatures, ensuring internal comfort is regulated.

Shading windows from sun is another easy fix. If hot sun is allowed to penetrate the house for long it will cause overheating of the thermal mass, which may cause discomfort for hours after sunset.

Opening windows when the evening cools down, and leaving them open to some extent overnight (with security features added if necessary) will allow hot air to escape before the next day starts.

Does this work better when combined with any of the other 17 Things™

Different climates require different types of building materials to be able effectively respond to seasonal climate changes, so No. 7 Density of Building Materials (thermal mass) works best for most climates when the climate zone of your property is taken into account. To be really effective thermal mass (the ability to store and release heat around the home) should be combined with No. 3 Orientation and No .6 Insulation. No. 8 Windows is also extremely important to further control how much heat and cold you let in or keep out.

Will this feature be recognised when I sell my property?

Yes; Liveability Real Estate Specialist sales agents and property managers have been upskilled to identify an additional 17 Things™ on top of a standard property appraisal. So if you have invested in any of the 17 Things™ this means your property will be appraised and marketed with real skill and with the best marketing resources for online and print media.

You can book a free property appraisal with a Liveability Real Estate Specialist any time you’re ready to sell or even if you’re not planning to sell for a couple of years. Each of the 17 Things™ has appraisal benchmarks (relevant to existing and new homes) which have been set by relevant industry partners to make sure we deliver a high standard of property marketing. So your Liveability Real Estate Specialist will work through this appraisal checklist with you as they move through your home. It’s a great chance for you to let them know about all the property features you have invested in.


Any questions?

We’re here to help! Just send us your enquiry.

You can book a free property appraisal with a Liveability Real Estate Specialist any time you’re ready to sell or even if you’re not planning to sell for a couple of years. Each of the 17 Things™ have appraisal benchmarks (relevant to existing and new homes) which have been set by relevant industry partners to make sure we deliver a high standard of property marketing. So your Liveability Real Estate Specialist will work through this appraisal checklist with you as they move through your home. It’s a great chance for you to let them know about all the property features you have invested in.


Any questions?

We’re here to help! Just send us your enquiry.

The 17 Things

The 17 Things

The 17 Things™ are property features that have the potential to reduce running costs and increase comfort if used correctly. You can discuss incorporating these into your renovation with with your architect, building designer or builder. The real estate industry is now identifying these Liveability Property Features™at point of sale or rent through agents that have completed additional training as Liveability Real Estate Specialists.

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