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Making sense of thermal mass

Much has been said in recent years about the benefits of thermal mass in building. Scott Clarkson sheds some light on whether too much can help or hinder building performance, with thanks to FWPA.

Like our bodies, building materials have the ability to absorb, store and release large amounts of thermal energy without altering their temperature greatly. We refer to this capability as thermal mass and, if used correctly, it can provide an effective means of moderating daily temperature changes, greatly reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling.

However, there can always be too much of a good thing. Although design guides and legislation encourage the incorporation of thermal mass to enhance thermal comfort in homes and buildings, there is actually little quantified information to help designers calculate how much mass is needed.

Too much thermal mass can actually reduce thermal comfort and increase energy usage. Because the manufacture of high thermal mass material often comes at a high environmental cost, and especially if a building’s lifespan is short, it’s quite possible that the energy saved can be significantly less than the energy invested in the thermal mass.

It’s important to recognise the variables that influence how thermal mass can be effectively used. The quantity of mass that is useful in a building will depend on key factors such as the local climate, the size and occupation patterns of the building, the environmental design strategy employed, and even the size of windows. Understanding how much thermal mass should be included in a building is important enough, but it’s even more important to understand how to use it in relation to all these factors.

Knowing how thermal energy is transferred helps us determine how to use it. Just like the human body, thermal environments transfer energy through radiation, conduction and convection. Read more

Scott Clarkson

About Scott Clarkson

Project Manager - Innovation at CSR, Scott Clarkson has been with CSR Building Products for almost nine years applying his expertise in technical, marketing and innovation roles. With his deep understanding of good design, architectural and engineering principles Scott was also the project manager for the CSR House project in 2011-2012, itself an outstanding demonstration of well-rounded building performance.


We often need a good breath of fresh air

The damaging health effects of mould and moisture are dramatic – but simple enough to prevent.

Whether we’re at home or at the workplace, Australians spend up to 90% of our time indoors. This makes the quality of the air we breathe indoors such an important factor in our lives.

Many of today’s buildings are built and decorated with materials loaded with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) creating airborne emissions arising from paints, sealants, carpets and adhesives – all dramatically reducing our indoor air quality.

With modern energy efficiency targets, many buildings also tend to have less uncontrolled leakage of outdoor air. Reducing air leakage certainly improves the overall efficiency of heating and cooling – however, we also need to be mindful of what this does for fresh air supply.

With the combination of improved air tightness and in-door pollutants mixing with increased time indoors, it’s no surprise this is having a significant effect on our collective health.

According to the National Asthma Council, there are 2.3 million people living in Australia with asthma. Asthma sufferers are sensitive to a wide range of airborne pollutants – with the most common triggers for asthma including VOCs and mould.

In recent studies, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have concluded that the most damaging effects of the accumulation of internal moisture and mould in buildings led to a direct increase of respiratory symptoms, allergies and asthma.

Even new buildings can suffer from mould and mildew, especially when internal spaces are not regularly or sufficiently ventilated. In addition, emissions from un-flued gas appliances, pet hair and pollen may also contribute to detrimental air quality.

This is a classic Catch 22 of modern buildings: we want great air quality and well ventilated buildings; however we also need them be well sealed for efficient operation of heating and cooling systems.

Is this an impossible contradiction? Well, not necessarily! Read more

Jesse Clarke

About Jesse Clarke

With over 14 years’ experience in sustainable building design, Jesse has worked on design of low energy buildings in Australia, Europe and Dubai. Jesse's role within the CSR Innovation group is largely centred on research and development of systems based solutions to allow the delivery of affordable, high efficiency Australian Buildings with increased durability and longevity.

Innovation needs marketing skills & planning to reduce risk

The next golden age of innovation in Australia

It’s not ideas that we need more of in Australia argues Ray Thompson*. A better model for successful innovation involves working more in tandem with business and much better marketing skills.

My favourite definition of innovation comes from the Economist: “Innovation is fresh thinking that creates value people are prepared to pay for.”

I applaud the recent Innovation Statement by the Prime Minister. This country needs such leadership and I have seen an immediate uplift in enthusiasm for innovation over the subsequent weeks.

Innovation is not invention. We have plenty of ideas and inventors in Australia – as does every other country. Indeed at CSR, we are approached every 2-3 weeks by local inventors with ideas that, in principle, look very attractive.

Unfortunately, in most cases they usually fail to create sufficient value to make them commercially viable.

And herein lies the difficulty for the Federal Government and the nation in the ‘innovation revolution’. The ideas boom we actually need is ideas and action that will create a more efficient nexus between inventors – Universities, CSIRO and individuals – and Australian industry.

Recently arrived from Scotland, Dr. Kevin Cullen, CEO of UNSW Innovations, told the audience at a CRC Forum in 2014 that if he was asked to create a system that ensured the vast majority of research work was never commercialised by industry it would be the Australian system.

It seems around 98% of all University research work remains locked behind academic brick walls and intellectual property lawyers. Read more

Ray Thompson

About Ray Thompson

General Manager Innovation – CSR Building Products. Ray Thompson has spent more than 30 years with CSR in driving building energy efficiency in Australia and Asia. Ray has qualifications in science, economics and marketing, he has represented CSR on numerous projects including state and federal governments, academic institutions and industry associations.

Successfully meeting performance requirements for door and window installations can be a complicated task

Windows of Oppportunity

Successfully meeting performance requirements for door and window installations can be a complicated task.  ‘Window guru’ Gary Smith from the AWA outlines the key issues associated with installing windows.

A couple of decades ago, there were no real performance requirements for windows.  Provided they opened, closed and had 3mm float glass in them, everything was fine.  However, due to the continued evolution of standards and regulations, improvement to construction methods and greater consumer expectations, windows and doors now have to meet complex performance requirements.

Wind and rain resistance, sound attenuation, compliance with the National Construction Code (NCC), bushfire resistance, energy efficiency all need to be considered in window installation.  It is important to have a firm understanding of how to ensure that your windows meet all the requirements.  Having a sound knowledge of the existing requirements and tests will inform your decisions when specifying, selecting, purchasing, certifying and installing window systems.

When deciding the type of window and door system that will be used in a project, the correct wind load for the construction site will be a decisive factor.  Every building site in Australia should be assessed for wind load requirements according to AS/NZS 1170.2 (Wind loads for buildings) or AS 4055 (Wind loads for housing).  The two loads are Serviceability Limit State (SLS) and Ultimate Limit State (ULS).

Wind loads are provided in AS 2047 or calculated from AS/NZS 1170.2 or, if the construction is housing, AS 4055 can be used to obtain the N or C ratings.  For commercial or multi-residential projects, site specific loads should be calculated by the project engineer.

The requirements for windows also change as the construction type changes.  Have you ever considered why windows in commercial buildings have such big sections?  This is because windows in commercial buildings are not permitted to deflect as much as windows in a house, additionally commercial buildings often experience higher wind loads than houses.

Whether you are building a detached house, a residential development or a commercial building, the construction typology will determine the installation. The Australian Window Association website has a key message ‘AWA Building Classifications’ that explains the different types of constructions and window requirements in more detail. Read more


CSR Survey Results: Responses Confirm Australians Need To Know More About The Potential Performance Of Their Home

Two recent surveys by CSR have provoked some very strong feedback on the building performance of Australian homes and just how much home buyers need to improve their knowledge of the key issues.

A 2014 CSR survey on the comfort level of Australian homes was conducted with more than 120 former North American and European residents now living in Australia – and the results weren’t pretty to read.

Remarkably, even though most survey respondents were comparing their Australian abodes to colder climates in northern Europe, Canada and the USA, more than 75% nonetheless said their Australian homes were colder in winter.

The expats were also overwhelmingly critical of the general comfort-levels of Australian homes, with 70% saying overseas houses had a higher quality level of comfort in terms of sound control, temperature and air flow than those built in Australia.

The overall results said more than half of expats believe the building performance of Australian homes is worse than the ones they lived in overseas.

At least the general appearance of Australian homes was viewed positively, with 45% saying Australian homes had a better look and style and 25% of respondents indicating that Australian homes are at least as visually appealing as overseas homes. Australian homes were favoured for their access to natural light – an important and appealing feature of local design.

“Our research suggests while Australian homes are hitting the mark when it comes to visual design, homes in North America and Europe are better performing in elements of comfort and energy efficiency,” Mr Clarke said.  Read more

Jesse Clarke

About Jesse Clarke

With over 14 years’ experience in sustainable building design, Jesse has worked on design of low energy buildings in Australia, Europe and Dubai. Jesse's role within the CSR Innovation group is largely centred on research and development of systems based solutions to allow the delivery of affordable, high efficiency Australian Buildings with increased durability and longevity.