Sustainable Architecture, Passive Design, Green Building and Thermal Mass – What does it all mean?

Sustainable architecture, Passive design, Green building and Thermal mass are terms that are getting thrown around at the moment by ill-informed practices. The team at Adam Taylor Architecture (ATA) have a best practice approach which begins with truly understanding the science of a building. One of the most common misconceptions is around ‘Thermal mass’. I often hear the line “my house is so cold as it has a polished concrete floor”. If however, a house is correctly orientated and insulated the opposite is true.


What is Thermal mass?

Thermal Break
Thermal Break

Thermal mass is the capacity of a material to store heat energy. If the adjacent space is warmer than the space in question it will soak up that heat energy or warmth. If however, the adjoining space is colder than itself, it will release heat energy. In simple terms ‘ Thermal mass’ soaks up heat energy then releases it as the temperature drops. Typically the principle is used to harness free energy from the sun by exposing a high-density material in the buildings interior – such as concrete or stone – to direct sunlight. When a house is designed correctly, the suns warmth is absorbed during the day and then radiated into the home as the temperature cools at night.



Science and Design

The science however is not so simple. The slab needs to be designed and detailed in such a way that heat radiates indoors only. Without correct detailing an exposed slab edge will leech all stored solar or ‘free’ energy externally. Orientation is also critical to ensure the Thermal mass captures heat during winter months when you want it, and not during summer months. Without correct design of windows and overhangs the mass could potentially overheat in summer and/or be cool in winter! Of course there are other factors to consider and the team at ATA has the knowledge-base to guarantee the performance of your thermal mass. We also provide solar animations and thermal modelling data to illustrate the performance of your home.


Thermal Image
The yellow light shows heat escaping through windows and slab edge


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