Resistance to the passage of heat - Walls.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The traditional method of heating buildings was by burning wood or coal in open fireplaces in England and in freestanding stoves in much of northern Europe. The ready availability of wood and coal was adequate to the then modest demands for heating of the comparatively small population of those times. The highly inefficient open fire had the advantage of being a cosy focus for social life and the disadvantage of generating draughts of cold air necessary for combustion. The more efficient freestanding stove, which lacked the obvious cheery blaze of the open fire, was more suited to burning wood, the fuel most readily available in many parts of Europe.


The considerable increase in population that followed the Industrial Revolution and the accelerating move from country to town and city increased demand for the dwindling supplies of wood for burning. Coal became the principal fuel for open fires and freestanding stoves.

During the eighteenth century town gas became the principal source for lighting and by the nineteenth century had largely replaced solid fuels as the heat source for cooking. From about the middle of the twentieth century oil was used as the heat source for heating. Following the steep increase in the price of oil, town gas and later on natural gas was adopted as the fuel most used for heating.

Before the advent of oil and then gas as fuels for heating, it was possible to heat individual rooms by means of solid fuel burning open fires or stoves and people accepted the need for comparatively thick clothing for warmth indoors in winter.

With the adoption of oil and gas as fuels for heating it was possible to dispense with the considerable labour of keeping open fires and stoves alight and the considerable area required to store an adequate supply of solid fuels. With the adoption of oil and gas as fuel for heating it was practical to heat whole buildings and there was no longer the inconvenience of cold corridors, toilets and bathrooms and the draughts of cold air associated with open fireplaces. The population increasingly worked in heated buildings, many in sedentary occupations, so that tolerance of cold diminished and the expectation of thermal comfort increased.


For a description of the history of the development of heating appliances over the centuries and the increased use of thermal insulation, see Volume 2, Fires and Stoves.

Of recent years the expectation of improved thermal comfort in buildings, the need to conserve natural resources and the increasing cost of fuels have led to the necessity for improved insulation against transfer of heat. To maintain reasonable and economical conditions of thermal comfort in buildings, walls should provide adequate insulation against excessive loss or gain of heat, have adequate thermal storage capacity and the internal face of walls should be at a reasonable temperature.

For insulation against loss of heat, lightweight materials with low conductivity are more effective than dense materials with high conductivity, whereas dense materials have better thermal storage capacity than lightweight materials.
Where a building is continuously heated it is of advantage to use the thermal storage capacity of a dense material on the inside face of the wall with the insulating properties of a lightweight material behind it. Here the combination of a brick or dense block inner leaf, a cavity filled with some lightweight insulating material and an outer leaf of brick against penetration of rain is of advantage.

Where buildings are intermittently heated it is important that inside faces of walls warm rapidly, otherwise if the inside face were to remain cold, the radiation of heat from the body to the cold wall face would make people feel cold. The rate of heating of smooth wall surfaces is improved by the use of low density, lightweight materials on or immediately behind the inside face of walls.

The interior of buildings is heated by the transfer of heat from heaters and radiators to air (conduction), the circulation of heated air (convection) and the radiation of energy from heaters and radiators to surrounding colder surfaces (radiation). This internal heat is transferred through colder enclosing walls, roofs and floors by conduction, convection and radiation to colder outside air.

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