Concrete is a very versatile and stable building material. For this reason, it is the second most widely used resource in the world after water. Low carbon concrete (LCC) is an improvement on normal concrete.
Like normal concrete, you get the benefits of fire resistance, sound/noise insulation, thermal mass, ease of construction and availability. LCC, however, is much greener (environmentally friendly), stronger, more durable, lighter in colour and better looking than normal concrete.
LCC can last over twice as long in aggressive environments such as those found on farms or in marine environments.
Benefit of LCC in Aggressive Environments
Fire can reduce the strength of concrete. LCC shows greatly improved strength after fire when compared to concrete made with ordinary cement.
Acids such as those found in farms and water/wastewater treatment plants cause deterioration of concrete. It is well established, through extensive research and experience, that the GGBS cement used in LCC greatly reduces the damage to concretes in this environment. Read more on improved resistance to damage from silage effluent
Previously developed sites may contain contaminants in the soil and ground/water which attack concrete causing expansion and cracking, leading to accelerated deterioration. Ecocem GGBS cement improves the chemistry and reduces the porosity of the concrete, protecting it from sulphates. The graph (see below left) shows the rate of expansion falling dramatically as the percentage of Ecocem increases.
Salts on roads and in marine environments penetrate concrete, attacking the steel reinforcement and causing it to expand. This causes the surrounding concrete to crack, requiring repair and, ultimately replacement. Using Ecocem GGBS Cement will double the life span of the concrete in terms of resistance to chloride attack (see above left). The National Roads Authority calls for the use of GGBS in concrete on all the bridge structures in Ireland.
Cracking and voids will lead to significant damage in your concrete. LCC has less cracking because of its chemistry, and has a much reduced void ratio than concrete made with ordinary cement.
Thermal Mass Benefits of LCC
Thermal mass acts as a 'thermal battery'. Thermal mass plays an important role in the performance of a building by moderating fluctuations in space temperature. This role becomes more important as summer temperatures in Ireland and the UK increase. The use of heavyweight construction materials with high thermal mass can reduce total heating and cooling requirements.
The diagram opposite shows the effect of thermal mass on indoor temperature. Whilst external temperatures in summer fluctuate between wide extremes, internal temperatures are moderated by thermal mass to within an acceptable comfort zone.
Thermal Mass and Climate Change
Research carried out by Arups (UK Housing and Climate Change - Arup Research and Development, 2005) reveals the likely failure of conventional and particularly lightweight forms of construction to meet with the demands of increasing temperatures in the UK. Arups demonstrate that thermal mass reduces the need for air conditioning whilst also reducing the consumption of winter heating fuel.
In concluding their research paper 'Thermal Mass, Insulation, and Ventilation in Sustainable Housing' (University of Stratchclyde, 2004), Tuohy et al concur with Arups: 'Thermal mass, ventilation, shading and shuttering are shown to have a large influence on summer peak temperatures with high thermal mass construction having a consistent beneficial effect.' They also noted that the IEA Sustainable Solar Housing demonstration houses reflected an increasing use of thermal mass in buildings towards southern Europe, 'apparently driven by summer cooling'. The role of thermal mass in northerly locations was observed to be more marginal.
Materials characterised by the expression 'Thermal mass' (aka 'Thermal storage capacity') are those that absorb heat, store it, and at a later time, release it.
Thermal mass can be expressed in terms of 'Volumetric heat capacity'. Volumetric heat capacity is the quantity of heat per unit mass per degree of temperature change or kJ/m3K and describes the ability of a given volume of a material to store internal energy whilst undergoing a given temperature change.
The effectiveness of Thermal Mass to absorb and emit heat is measured in terms of thermal conductivity. High conductivity implies a more rapid ability to absorb and emit heat. Conductivity is the quantity of heat transmitted in time through a thickness due to a temperature difference or Wm−1K−1.
Characteristics of Effective Thermal Mass
- High heat capacity (the ability to store large amounts of heat)
- Moderate conductance (must be able to transfer heat fairly well through conduction)
- Moderate density (cannot be too heavy or too light)
- High emissivity (must be able to easily emit, or give off, heat)
Other Material Characteristics
Thermal Lag (hours)
Thermal lag is a term describing the amount of time taken for a material to absorb and then re-release heat, or for heat to be conducted through the material.
Thermal Lag times are influenced by:
- Temperature differentials between each face.
- Exposure to air movement and air speed.
- Texture and coatings of surfaces.
- Thickness of material.
- Conductivity of material.
Thermal Admittance (W/m2 K)
Thermal Admittance is a useful factor in assessing the likely performance of different materials during the design process. Thermal Admittance describes the controlling property of a material to exchange heat with the internal space due to a change in temperature over a period of time (usually 24 hours). It is measure in W/m2 K, where temperature is the difference between the mean value and actual value within the space at a specific point in time. It is high for heavyweight construction, and low for insulation.
Thermal Admittance is influenced by:
- Thermal capacity
- Surface resistance
Ultimately admittance has an upper limit determined by the rate of heat transfer from the material's surface to the adjacent air � though this can be increased through ventilation providing convective heat transfer.
The Thermal Properties of some Common Materials
|Material||Conductivity W/mK||Vol heat capacity kJ/m3K|
|Cast concrete (dense)||1.4||2300|
|Dense concrete block||1.8||2000|
|Lightweight concrete block||0.11||600|
How Thermal Mass Works
The thermal capacity of the building's elements delays the heat transfer to the interior of the building, by soaking up excessive heat for several hours. During the night, when the external temperature is lower, the stored heat is slowly expelled to the environment by radiation and by convection.
- Heat is radiated through the surface of the mass by a warmer object (such as sun, lights, people, or equipment).
- Heat is conducted from the warmer surface of the mass to the cooler interior of the mass, effectively "storing" heat in the mass.
- When the mass surface becomes warmer than other objects surrounding it, the mass radiates heat to these objects (meaning the mass radiates heat back into the house).
- Heat from the warmer interior of the mass is conducted to the surface of the mass as the mass cools (a reversal of step 2).
The most effective construction materials are those with the highest volumetric heat capacity. In general, dense materials will generally have a higher thermal mass than less dense products. For example, dense concrete blockwork, rammed earth and mud bricks have a high effective thermal mass when compared to lightweight blockwork or wood.
For thermal mass to be effective there must be minimal thermal resistance between the occupied space and the mass of the structure. The temperature fluctuations within the building fabric are greatest at the surfaces. Relatively thin layers of plaster can have a significant effect on the thermal mass by providing thermal resistance.
The Seasonal Effects of Thermal Mass
In summer, thermal mass absorbs heat that enters the building. In hot weather, thermal mass has a lower initial temperature than the surrounding air and acts as a heat sink. By absorbing heat from the atmosphere the internal air temperature is lowered during the day, with the result that comfort is improved without the need for supplementary cooling.
At night the heat is slowly released to passing cool breezes (natural ventilation), or extracted by exhaust fans, or is released back into the room itself.
In winter, thermal mass in the floor or walls absorbs radiant heat from the sun through south, east and west-facing windows. During the night, the heat is gradually released back into the room as the air temperature drops. This maintains a comfortable temperature for some time, reducing the need for supplementary heating during the early evening.
The most difficult period in winter is the early morning. The heat released during the night has dissipated, temperatures have dropped and the sun has yet to begin the heating process. During this time it will probably be necessary to use supplementary heating to warm the thermal mass before the air temperature rises.
Locating Thermal Mass
- Thermal mass is most effective where exposed to direct sun radiation.
- Where not exposed to direct radiation, thermal mass relies on efficient convection.
- Comfort is improved if the mass is distributed evenly within a room.
- Thermal mass should be insulated from external temperatures for maximum effectiveness.
- Materials that make for effective thermal mass usually perform badly as insulators.
- The most important location for thermal mass is in south-facing rooms. To heat thermal mass effectively in winter, it should be optimised for exposure to direct winter sun.
- As the area of south-facing window increases, the more thermal mass is required to maintain a stable temperature.
- Thermal mass located within north-facing rooms is relatively un-important. It is frequently argued that thermal mass should be avoided altogether in bedrooms, so reducing an associated nocturnal rise in temperature.
- Summer conditions can lead to overheating to eastern and western facades. Consideration should be paid to locating thermal mass in these locations.
- Locate additional thermal mass near the centre of the building, particularly if a heater is positioned here.
Content provided by GreenSpec.