Given the energy concerns many people have these days, most homes are now designed to take advantage of passive solar heating concepts. Solar thermal heating is a big part of this process. How Thermal Mass Works In Your Home Getting a little free heating can go a long way in lowering your utility bill, particularly when you look at the savings over the lifetime of a given structure.
Passive solar heating is one methodology which can be used to achieve this goal. Passive solar heating is a process wherein a home is built or upgraded in such a way as to catch and contain as much of the surrounding sunlight, in the form of heat, as possible.
In order to effectively use solar energy for heating, its important that you understand the concept of “thermal mass.”
What is Thermal Mass?
The term thermal mass simply refers to any material which absorbs and stores heat. In the case of passive solar heating, we are obviously talking about material which stores the heat that is inherent in sunlight, and then disperses it at a later time, once the sunlight is no longer hitting it.
While you may not immediately realize it, your home already contains thermal mass which is producing heat. Any material which is exposed to the sun, including furniture, floors, and the like, acts as thermal mass. Unfortunately, this is usually on a pretty small scale.
A passive solar home will have strategically placed materials that are very efficient at absorbing, and then radiating, heat. This is often called “intentional thermal mass.” While it may sound like a complex concept, it really is not. The materials include items such as bricks, tile and masonry. Adobe and clay materials also function well in certain situations. Just like a stone sitting beside a fire will retain heat and can be used for warming a bed, the same goes with these materials which absorb sunlight and then radiate heat to a certain degree.
In a passive solar home, you will need the thermal mass to be in the interior of the home. Strategically placing tile and brick in areas below windows which receive significant amounts of sun during the day, will often do the trick. The amount of thermal mass you use will vary, depending on your heating needs. In colder climates, this thermal mass should be used in bulk, while a home in a hot area like Arizona will only need nominal amounts.
One common misunderstanding regarding thermal materials is regarding their color. Logically, it would seem to make sense that the materials would need to be dark, since dark colors absorb more heat. But this is not necessarily true where passive solar energy is concerned. In this case, it is the material itself, not the color, that makes the difference. Bricks can be just about any color, including light colors (but not white). This datum may sound insignificant, but it can be a major benefit if you are setting up passive solar energy but you still want to avoid a dark, gloomy interior for your home.
Getting a good grasp of the thermal products you will use should give you a head start, if you wish to harness the power of the sun for heating purposes.