To make good choices on glazing, it is needed to understand a bit about light and heat. The sunlight that strikes the Earth is comprised of a variety of wavelengths and different glazing will selectively transmit, absorb, and reflect the various components of the solar spectrum. Likewise, reducing glare (via reflection or tinting) is helpful in the workplace by allowing the transmission of visible, or natural, light it is possible to save energy for artificial light. But perhaps the greatest effect on human comfort levels is determined by infrared heat transfer. By specifying the right type of glass, it is possible to trap the infrared heat for warmth, or reflect the infrared heat to prevent warming.
There are three ways that heat moves through a glazing material. The first is conduction. Conductive heat is transferred through the glazing by direct contact. Heat can be felt by touching the glazing material. The second form of heat transfer is radiation; electromagnetic waves carry heat through a glazing. This produces the feeling of heat radiating from the surface of the glazing. The third method of heat transfer is convection. Convection transfers heat by motion, in this case, air flow. The natural flow of warm air toward colder air allows heat to be lost or gained.
The R-value of a glazing – its insulating capabilities or resistance to the flow of heat – is determined by the degree of conduction, radiation, and convection through the glazing material. However, air infiltration will also determine the overall R-value of a glazing system. The amount of heat that travels around a glazing is as important as the heat transfer through a glazing. Air can leak in or out of a building around the glazing via the framing. The quality, workmanship, and the installation of the entire glazing system, including the framing, affects air infiltration.
Advances in glass technology have perhaps been the single largest contributor to building efficiency since the 1970s and they play an important roll in solar design. Some window advances include:
Double and triple pane windows with much higher insulating values.
Low emissivity or Low-E glass employing a coating which lets heat in but not out.
Argon (and other) gas filled windows that increase insulating values above windows with just air.
Phase-change technologies that can switch from opaque to translucent when a voltage is applied to them.
Basic Glass Types
Glazing materials include glass, acrylics, fibreglass, and other materials. Although different glazing materials have very specific applications, the use of glass has proven the most diverse. The various types of glass allow the passive solar designer to fine-tune a structure to meet client needs. The single pane is the simplest of glass types, and the building block for higher performance glass. Single panes have a high solar transmission, but have poor insulation – the R-value is about 1,0. Single pane glass can be effective when used as storm windows, in warm climate construction (unless air conditioning is being used), for certain solar collectors, and in seasonal greenhouses. Structures using single pane glass will typically experience large temperature swings, drafts, increased condensation, and provide a minimal buffer from the outdoors.
Perhaps the most common glass product used today is the double pane unit. Double pane glass is just that: two panes manufactured into one unit. Isolated glass (thermopane) incorporate a spacer bar (filled with a moisture absorbing material called a desiccant) between the panes and are typically sealed with silicone. The spacer creates a dead air space between the panes. This air space increases the resistance to heat transfer; the R-value for double pane is about 1,8-2,1. Huge air spaces will not drastically increase R-value. In fact, a large air space can actually encourage convective heat transfer within the unit and produce a heat loss. A rule of thumb for air space is between 1 and 2 centimetres. It is also possible to go as large as 10-12 centimetres without creating convective flow, but at that point you are dealing with a very large and awkward unit. The demand for greater energy efficiency in building and retrofitting homes has made insulated glass units the standard. With good solar transmission and fair insulation, such unit is a large improvement over the single pane. Windows, doors, skylights, sunrooms, and many other areas utilize double pane glass.
HIGH PERFORMANCE GLASS
High performance or enhanced glass offers even better R-value and solar energy control. By further improving the insulating capability of glass, it is possible dramatically increase also design options. What were once insulated walls may become sunrooms. Solid roofs and ceilings become windows to the sky. Dark rooms can “wake up” to natural light, solar heat gain, and wonderful views. For a relatively small increase in cost it is possible to improve efficiency, provide better moisture and UV protection, and gain design flexibility. A variety of high performance glass is now available.
What are the advantages of this glass? Low emissivity (Low-E) glass is succeeding double pane glass in energy efficient buildings. Emissivity is the measure of infrared (heat) transfer through a material. The higher the emissivity, the more heat is radiated through the material. Conversely, the lower the emissivity, the more heat is reflected by the material. Low-E coatings will reflect, or re-radiate, the infrared heat back into a room, making the space warmer. This translates into R-values from 2.6 to 3.2. In warmer climates it is possible to reverse the unit and re-radiate infrared heat back to the outside, keeping the space cooler. Low-E glass improves the R-value, UV protection, and moisture control.Gas-filled windows increase R-value. Properly done, gas-filling will increase the overall R-value of a glass unit by about 1,0. The air within an insulated glass unit is displaced with an inert, harmless gas with better insulation properties. Typical gases used are Krypton and Argon.
In addition to decorative functions, curtains can be used to reduce the heat losses that occur during the cold months as well as the heat gains during the warmer months. The plywood box over the curtain top prevents warm ceiling air from moving between the glass and curtain. The curtain should drop at least 30 cm below the window for it to be effective. The optimum condition would be for it to drop to the floor.
Solar radiation hitting walls, windows, roofs and other surfaces is adsorbed by the building and is stored in thermal mass. This stored heat is then radiated to the interior of the building. Thermal mass in a solar heating system performs the same function as batteries in a solar electric system (see chapter on photovoltaics). Both store solar energy, when available, for later use.
Thermal mass can be incorporated into a passive solar room in many ways, from tile-covered floors to water-filled drums. Thermal mass materials, which include slab floors, masonry walls, and other heavy building materials, absorb and store heat. They are a key element in passive solar homes. Homes with substantial south-facing glass areas and no thermal storage mass do not perform well.
It is important to know that dark surfaces reflect less, therefore, absorb more heat. In case of a dark tiled floor, the floor will be able to absorb heat all day and radiate heat into the room at night. The rate of heat flow is based on the temperature difference between heat source and the object to which the heat flows. As described above heat flows in three ways – conduction (heat transfer through solid materials), convection (heat transfer through the movement of liquids or gasses), and radiation. All surfaces of a building lose heat via these three modes. Good solar design works to minimize heat loss and maximize efficient heat distribution. The need for thermal mass (heat-storage materials) inside a building is very climate-dependent. Heavy buildings of high thermal mass are consistently more comfortable during hot weather in hot-arid and cool-temperate climates, while in hot-humid climates there is little benefit. In cool-temperature climates the thermal mass acts as a cold-weather heat store thus improving overall comfort and reducing the need for auxiliary heating, except on overcast or very cold days. In intermittently heated buildings, however, it tends to increase the heat needed to maintain the chosen conditions.
Providing adequate thermal mass is usually the greatest challenge to the passive solar designer. The amount of mass needed is determined by the area of south-facing glazing and the location of the mass. In order to ensure an effective design it is important to follow these guidelines:
Locate the thermal mass in direct sunlight. Thermal mass installed where the sun can reach it directly is more effective than indirect mass placed where the sun’s rays do not penetrate. Houses that rely on indirect storage need three to four times more thermal mass than those using direct storage.
Distribute the thermal mass. Passive solar homes work better if the thermal mass is relatively thin and spread over a wide area. The surface area of the thermal mass should be at least 3 times, and preferably 6 times, greater than the area of the south windows. Slab floors that are 8 to 10 centimetres thick are more cost effective and work better than floors 16 to 20 inches thick.
Do not cover the thermal mass. Carpeting virtually eliminates savings from the passive solar elements. Masonry walls can have drywall finishes, but should not be covered by large wall hangings or lightweight panelling. The drywall should be attached directly to the mass wall, not to covers fastened to the wall that create an undesirable insulating airspace between the drywall and the mass.
Select an appropriate mass colour. For best performance, finish mass floors with a dark colour. A medium colour can store 70 percent as much solar heat as a dark colour, and may be appropriate in some designs. A matte finish for the floor reduces reflected sunlight, thus increasing the amount of heat captured by the mass and having the additional advantage of reducing glare. The colour of interior mass walls does not significantly affect passive solar performance.
Insulate the thermal mass surfaces. There are several techniques for insulating slab floors and masonry exterior walls. These measures should introduced to achieve the energy savings. Unfortunately, problems in some case can arise like with termite infestations in foam insulation for perimeter slabs. This can complicate the issue of whether and how to insulate slab-on-grade floors.
Make thermal mass multipurpose. For maximum cost effectiveness, thermal mass elements should serve other purposes as well. Masonry thermal storage walls are one example of a passive solar design that is often cost prohibitive because the mass wall is only needed as thermal mass. On the other hand, tile-covered slab floors store heat, serve as structural elements, and provide a finished floor surface. Masonry interior walls provide structural support, divide rooms, and store heat.
When developing a thermal storage system or simply comparing materials it is useful to look at the storage capacity of the proposed building materials which is referred to as the volumetric heat capacity (J/m3. Deg. Celsius) or more commonly the specific heat and the rate at which the material can take up and store heat.