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What is thermal mass?

Good use of thermal mass can help to reduce the cost of heating and cooling your home. Tim Doherty looks at how it works – and how to best integrate it into your building project
Winner of Best Masonry Home in the 2017 Build It Awards, the Quest by Strom Architects ( features a heavyweight construction – including a large concrete chimney that helps to absorb warmth entering through the vast swathes of glazing

Amaterial’s thermal mass is, fundamentally, its ability to absorb and store heat: a trait that we’re gradually learning to put to good use in building design. Perhaps the easiest way to understand it is to think of electric night storage heaters. These radiators have been around since the 1970s, when large, heavy metallic units were mainly used to provide background heating in retrofits – where quick and cheap installation was paramount.

Underneath their metal casing was a large lump of masonry (concrete or dense blocks). The radiators were plugged into the mains and charged with heat overnight (when electricity is cheap). That warmth would then be slowly released throughout the day – ie when the occupants needed it.

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January 2018
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About Build It

Get your self-build or renovation project started with advice & inspiration from Build It magazine. Here's what to expect in the January issue: • How the Rogers built an Arts & Crafts-style modern home • The latest on smart home technology • Are woodburning stoves eco friendly? • Heating options for renovations • Avoiding grand designs disasters • Plot Watch: Did they get planning consent? ...and much more!