Thermal Mass and the Warming Climate
As many, I’ve been reading about the heat in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere right now. Feels like across North America, Europe and Asia, a vast portion of the planet is undergoing a heat wave at the moment.
As I’ve been reading about heat island effects in big cities, it got me to thinking about some of the passive heating techniques we talk about including building with high thermal mass materials to capture heat during the day and release them at night. Concrete floors or walls, straw bale or rammed earth walls, trombe wall systems, all operate on this premise that the day is warm and the night is cool, and the thermal mass will act like a giant capacitor, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night.
In theory this all makes sense, when you have warm days and cool nights. But as phenomena like heat domes become more common where stagnant hot air remains trapped over a region for days at a time and the nights don’t cool off sufficiently, can this technique really backfire and create more problems than it solves?
If the thermal mass can’t cool off for days on end, aren’t we just building our own little heat islands that will require more energy to actively cool them during extreme heat events?
Curious if others have thought about this and have perspectives.
GBA Detail Library
A collection of one thousand construction details organized by climate and house part