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January 2014 – Thermal Mass in efficient buildings

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Forecasts for the next year suggest that sectors like commercial building will be among the strongest growing as the UK’s recession battered construction industry starts to get back on track. Recovery has been a long time coming, but even a slow train gets a warm welcome on arrival.

Steel frames continued to dominate the multi-storey offices market throughout the recession as the latest Market Shares Survey from independent researchers at Construction Markets shows (see News), and are expected to continue market leadership as the business cycle at last turns up. Other sectors like residential are also showing strong growth and steel is making inroads into those markets as well.

The market has obviously got the message that steel provides numerous advantages like cost, ease, speed and safety of use, a host of sustainability benefits and the ability to allow architects to see their design ideas fully expressed. One or two misperceptions about steel remain however and the steel sector is committed to ensuring that no architect, structural engineer or quantity surveyor makes a sub optimal choice because accurate advice and information was unavailable. Thermal mass is a case in point.

A new publication being distributed with this issue of NSC and other leading construction magazines aims to put to rest the old saw that taking advantage of the thermal mass properties of a building means designing a heavyweight structure, probably concrete framed with the consequent expense of deep foundations, slow construction programmes and other disadvantages, and with thick concrete floors.

This notion is plainly wrong, as has been well demonstrated by many studies in recent years. Waste money and ignore sustainability in creating overweight edifices if for some reason you must; but don’t do it because you think you have to in order to capture thermal mass benefits is the message.

The new publication – Steel Construction Thermal Mass – is a sound introduction to how to use thermal mass to reduce operational energy use in non-domestic buildings, explaining how it can be used as part of a fabric energy storage (FES) strategy to achieve sustainable, energy efficient buildings.

The guide contains plenty of real life examples of how recently constructed steel framed buildings took full advantage of thermal mass to reduce carbon emissions to well below current national standards. Using steel frames cut costs and saved time on the construction programme and produced buildings with BREEAM ‘Excellent’ and EPC ‘A’ ratings.

Read it and you will learn that FES strategies are as effective in the structurally efficient steel framed buildings that the overwhelming bulk of the market prefers.

Nick Barrett

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