Exposing the Real Benefit of Brick and Concrete

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Exposed brick walls and poured concrete floors are elements that make any space automatically cool. Office buildings and condos become trendy in the eyes of young professionals who have cool jobs and even cooler wardrobes. But unlike the sky high heels they’re likely to wear, these building features also serve a practical purpose. Aside from just aesthetics, these elements can help moderate indoor temperatures and create a comfortable indoor environment. This is all possible based on the principles of thermal mass.

A thermal mass is made of any material that can take in excess heat from its surrounding environment, hold on to it, and then gradually release it when the surrounding conditions have cooled off. Materials that are considered to be good thermal masses have both a high density and heat capacity (which is a material’s ability to retain heat). Building materials like brick and concrete meet these requirements, and can help control your indoor climate year-round.

In the winter, the sun should be shinning on the thermal mass during the few daylight hours of the season (situating the thermal mass in an area of south-facing windows is a good way to achieve this). The thermal mass – a brick wall for example – will heat up from the incoming solar rays. Since brick has a higher heat capacity than air, the wall will store the heat until the indoor air starts to cool. As the sun sets, the indoor temperature will begin to drop, and the brick will slowly start to give off heat to the surrounding air. This will help keep occupants warm during the colder nights.

An opposite approach should be used throughout the summer season. During the warm months, the same solar mass should be shaded during the day (using an exterior awning, indoor shades, or window covers is a good way to accomplish this). This will keep the mass cool, and prompt it to absorb heat from the warmer indoor air. This will help keep the rooms cool and occupants happy during the sticky summer months.

Whether you like brick and concrete for their architectural appeal or for their energy-saving potential, rest assure that these elements embody both style and substance. These features have definitely become a major trend in interior design, but now they are an even bigger trend in the green movement. But while some trends come and go, being environmentally conscious will never go out of fashion. Incorporating a thermal mass into your home will benefit your living space in ways that crown moulding never can.

Sandra Dedesko is a recent graduate of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto. She has a high interest in energy efficient buildings and sustainable urban development. She's currently working towards a Masters degree and industry career in this area.