House Thermal Mass Works in Summer Too

House temperature ranges diagram

My house at Manilla, NSW, is in a climate with temperatures that are extreme, but comfortable on the average. To reduce extreme temperatures indoors, the house contains more than a hundred tonnes of thermal mass within a shell of insulation.
The “thermal mass” is the materials, such as bricks, stones, concrete, earth or water, that have high thermal capacity (See Notes below): they take in and give out a lot of heat.
Many people, who can see that having thermal mass inside a house will help to keep it warm in winter, think that the thermal mass will make it hard to keep the house cool in summer. They see many brick and brick-veneer houses in which thermal mass is exposed to the intense heat of the summer sun. In that case, thermal mass material does no good.

In this graph, I have used my last twelve months of temperature data to show the benefit of well-insulated thermal mass in summer as well as in winter.
Outdoor temperature in this year went as low as minus 4.0° Celsius and as high as plus 43.7°: a range of 47.7°. Continue reading

January “Coolth” in a House without Air-Conditioning

I have now 15 years of January average temperature data for my house at Manilla, North-west Slopes, NSW. These graphs show how the house temperature relates to the outdoor (or ambient) maximum, mean, and minimum temperatures.Regression graphs of indoor on outdoor temp in the hottest month

The house is not too hot and not too cold

Solar-Passive House from the NE.

House at Monash St Manilla from NE

In January (the hottest month) the rooms* in this solar-passive house do not heat up much during the day, nor do they cool down much at night. Since the indoor temperature always rises and falls just one or two degrees from the mean, only the mean is shown. Green lines on the graphs, which are drawn to pass through the middle of each cloud of data points, show by how much (on the average) the indoor temperatures have differed from the outdoor maximum, mean, and minimum temperatures. On the middle graph the green line shows that the rooms have been 0.5° cooler than the mean temperature outdoors. The left graph shows that the rooms have been 8.2° cooler than the daily maximum outdoor temperatures. The right graph shows that the rooms have been 7.3° warmer than the daily minimum overnight temperatures.

The design of the house aimed to protect those living there from excessive summer heat. It may seem that reducing the mean temperature by only half a degree is a failure. Not so! The January mean temperature at this site (26.1°) is near the middle of the adaptive comfort zone for this month, and so is the indoor mean temperature (25.6°). The house succeeds in keeping the indoor temperature comfortable in the heat of the day, when that outdoors is an uncomfortable 34 degrees. The high thermal mass that achieves this has the unfortunate result that the minimum indoor temperature overnight (not shown) is some five degrees warmer than the outdoor minimum. However, on average, it is still a comfortable 23.5 degrees. (Curiously, no-one knows the best room temperature for sleep.) Continue reading

July Warmth in an Unheated House

Solar-Passive House from the NW

House at Monash St Manilla from NW

I have fifteen years of temperature data for my high-mass, solar passive, unheated house at Manilla, NSW, Australia. This article has been posted previously here. These graphs show how July temperatures indoors relate to those outdoors. Indoor maxima and minima are not shown, because they are consistently between one and two degrees above and below the indoor mean.

House and ambient temperatures, 15 July months. The house is much warmer (dashed green lines)

In July, the rooms* in this solar-passive house, heated only by the sun, are much warmer than outdoors. This is shown by the green lines on the graphs, which are drawn to pass through the middle of each cloud of data points. The middle graph shows that, as an average over 15 July months, the rooms have been 8.7 degrees warmer than outdoors. The left graph shows that the rooms have even been 1.4 degrees warmer than the daily maximum outdoor temperatures. The right graph shows that the rooms have been nearly sixteen degrees warmer than the daily minimum overnight temperatures. To stay warm in this way the house must have absorbed many hundreds of kilowatt hours of heat from the sun. I have burned a few kilowatt hours of grid power to maintain my comfort, but this cannot have warmed the house by as much as one tenth of a degree in any month. Continue reading