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January 2011 – Thermal mass – the sustainable view

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As the drive towards sustainability gathers pace, the steel sector is devoting considerable resources on a number of fronts to ensure that designers have all the information and assistance that they might need to help create a truly sustainable world. Target Zero, for example, is a steel sector initiative to provide building designers with all the information they need to contribute towards the government’s ambitious carbon elimination targets, and the latest developments about that can be read in News.

Carbon reduction is a priority for designers of buildings and other infrastructure today and for the foreseeable future. Huge amounts of money will be invested globally as we grapple with the problem of building a low or zero carbon future – amounts of four per cent of global gross domestic production have been suggested as a likely tally. It is obviously crucial that this is spent wisely with zero waste, which is going to mean shedding some outdated notions as we go along. Chief among them is the notion that heavyweight concrete buildings perform sustainably better because of thermal mass.

Thermal mass is a straightforward concept, but not always easy to apply in practice. There are a lot of factors to take into account for a building to reap the full benefit, as is explained in the feature article on page 30. The designer must strike a balance between mass of the structure and responsiveness. Research has shown that the optimum thermal mass is provided by 100mm thickness of concrete floor slab, which is provided by lightweight steel construction.

The extra mass provided by inherently heavier concrete framed buildings is in fact a waste, which is itself unsustainable. As the author of the Thermal Mass article highlights in this issue, designers wanting to use thermal mass should provide an optimal amount and not a wasteful excess which might in fact reduce thermal performance. Steel is the sustainable solution when thermal mass is properly considered.

Hopes pinned on private sector

As we start the New Year, details still remain scant about the investment plans of government  spending departments and other public sector agencies. We are all eagerly cheering the private sector on as it races to create jobs as fast as the public sector looks likely to shed them over the next few years.

Choosing which investment programmes to cut to meet its deficit cutting objectives was never going to be easy for the government. Predicting precisely where the axe will fall though could be key to corporate survival, allowing marketing strategies to be adapted to new market realities.

NSC has no crystal ball and has no more idea than you what programmes will be slashed and which spared. But after reading of the widely publicised research into the state of the UK’s health infrastructure from the BBC in early December, it is especially hard to see how the pace of investment in hospitals and other healthcare facilities can be slowed down by much or for long.

Health could be a strong bet for those with a presence in that market already. Yet the public sector does not have the funds, so alternative funding sources like the PFI could come more to the fore. Over to the private sector again.

Nick Barrett
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