What’s the Difference Between Thermal Insulation and Thermal Mass?
Insulation and thermal mass are the terms related to thermal insulation for home. But people often get confused between both these terms thermal insulation and thermal mass. So knowing the difference will not only help you understand about them but also will make you decide between the use of their combination or only one to prepare a more substantial and effective solution. Both are used to control the temperature inside a house throughout the seasons but work in a completely different way. Their use will not only help you in saving money on the long term basis and increase overall energy efficiency.
We are here to answer the basic difference between thermal mass and insulation to help you decide accordingly and protect your home.
Thermal Mass is a specific material with the ability to absorb but also store and radiate heat energy. In a home, you can find these materials in the form of masonry like brick, concrete, adobe, rammed earth, and earthbags. To help you understand thermal mass, besides explaining thermal heat formulas and equations which are not meant to common people. I would like to explain it using a simple example.
If you are having an old uninsulated adobe house. The walls will simply soak up the heat during the day and channel the heat through the wall at a rate of 1 inch per hour. When the wall is fully charged like a battery by the end of the day, it will start emitting heat to the interior and keep it warm overnight. While in the night walls started getting cooler from outside at the rate of 1 inch per hour and radiated it into the house during the day. The cycle keeps on repeating and maintains room temperature. People have figured out this amazing physics a very long time ago.
Thermal mass can also be understood as the thermal admittance because both are proportionally related. Actually, it is the capability of absorbing and releasing heat. The higher thermal admittance results in higher thermal mass. Other than this, thermal mass can also be explained through the material density (higher density means higher thermal mass). While the thermal conductivity is calculated based on the heat travel through the material. For example, the materials like stone, brick, concrete, gypsum plaster and water hold high thermal mass. Whereas, the materials like timber, steel or mineral fibre insulation possess low thermal mass.
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The insulation can be understood as the ability of a material to slow down the transfer of heat energy and maintain the temperature between inside and outside. This ability to maintain heat energy is decided based on R- and U-values of the material. The materials like foam, fibreglass, loose-fill, or any other reflective materials, provide thermal insulation for home.
Proper insulation can safeguard your home from drastic weather and temperature changes throughout the year. So choose insulation material sensibly because all products are not meant for every part of your home. Like insulation for the floor uses different material as compared to the roof or cavity wall.
Homes built using structural insulated panels are the best example of thermal insulation. Such houses have walls manufactured with big foam pieces sandwiched between specific sheathing formed by engineers like oriented strand board (OSB). These panels with mostly foam form an extremely tight super-insulated shell which results in no air transmission to keep the room temperature unchanged.
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Which one to choose-Thermal mass and Insulation?
The decision between choosing thermal mass and insulation depends on the temperature fluctuations outside. If you want to maintain a stable, constant temperature inside the home as compared to the stable, constant temperature outside but comparatively higher than the inside temperature. You should go with the thermal insulation because it will prevent additional heat emission inside and will maintain a proper difference between outside and inside temperature. In this case, if you choose thermal mass it will soak out heat and eventually release inside which will equalize temperature both outside and inside the home. So basically thermal insulation is an ideal choice since it prevents overheating in the day time and overcooling during the night.
What if you choose the best of both-thermal mass and insulation?
If you have ever noticed an old adobe, you should be aware of how it regulates temperature and gets cold in the winter after a series of cold sunless days. Whereas a super-insulated home completely depends on artificial heating and cooling systems to control the air temperature.
So the combination of thermal mass and insulation will be the most practical solution. Because it will provide complete insulation but you have to rely on cooling and heating devices you are going to use.
The combination of thermal mass and insulation is often considered as passive solar design. It provides a comfortable space to live in where heat and cool manages itself naturally without any artificial heating and cooling systems. It results in the reduction of heating and cooling bills and preserves natural resources as well.