Thermal mass is often talked about as vital for good passive-solar design.
Thermal mass in WA is easier to provide that you think, purely due to the materials we prefer to build with. The installation of concrete floors and brick walls provides the thermal mass of our buildings. We must make sure that it works for us, rather than against us.
Thermal mass can be used to trap, store and later use the collected thermal energy in the form of heat. The performance of thermal mass elements of a home can be enhanced through the choice of floor coverings, colouring and textures selected. A matt, dark-coloured floor tile laid on a concrete floor is more effective than a light coloured carpet that insulates the concrete slab from the heat. Same goes for a dark paint colour on an internal brick wall that faces a window collecting the warmth of the sun – it is far more effective than a light or reflective colour to maximise its thermal performance.
In winter, opening the blinds and curtains will allow the floor and walls of your home to absorb the radiant heat. As the outside temperatures fall at night, the thermal mass will release the stored thermal energy as heat counter-acting the cooling external conditions. Close the window treatments to keep the warmth in.
In summer the opposite is true. So how can thermal mass be a good thing in the summer? You do need to shade the heat from the thermal mass to keep your home cool. The thermal mass will still absorb the heat of the home during the day. At night ventilate the thermal mass so the heat is released to keep your home cool.
Passive-solar design is about making your home more comfortable and to reduce the amount of artificial heating and cooling required. Having done that, you as the occupier need to ensure that you know how to use your home’s features to maximise the efficiency of your home through the way you live.
So benefiting from thermal mass through passive solar design does require some action by the occupant.