Energy Basics: Introduction

Energy use in buildings is a complex phenomenon. The design of the building and the configuration of its systems are important factors in how much energy is used.  However, energy use is also strongly affected by climate and the manner in which the building is operated. Important building operation factors include operation schedules, thermostat settings, lighting and equipment use, and ventilation rates (outside air). In most buildings, these are known before the building is designed and are taken into account by the architect and MEP designers. Ideally, building operation needs should accounted for in the design of the building, but the cycle can also work in reverse. A poorly designed building may make efficient building operation difficult or even impossible.

Designers and builders have understood how to masonry as a building material for thousands of years, but often are confused about its masonry’s role in building energy performance, especially in more modern designs. The purpose of this website is to clear away some of the confusion and to provide solid information on how masonry can contribute to energy efficient building design and, at the same time, help designers to meet the provisions in the continually changing energy codes.

The reason buildings use energy is to maintain comfortable living and working conditions in its interior. The outdoor temperature swings above and below comfortable temperatures, and the building envelope provides a thermal barrier between them. The amount of energy that flows across this barrier determines much of the much energy must be expended in heating or cooling the building to maintain comfort.

Lightweight walls and heavy walls moderate these thermal energy flows differently. With light frame walls, the heat and temperatures that cross the building’s thermal barrier change the interior temperatures quite quickly. With heavy, masonry walls, the heat transfer and thus changes in interior temperatures are reduced and delayed. In many cases, this means that less energy expenditure is needed to maintain comfort levels in the interior spaces.

Next: How Buildings Use Energy