The impact of thermal mass on building energy consumption

Aidan Reilly*, Oliver Kinnane

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Citations (Scopus)
480 Downloads (Pure)


This paper presents new metrics to measure the effect of thermal mass on the energy required to heat and cool buildings. Previous studies have been flawed as they have not considered the interaction between intermittent occupancy and thermal mass, which has a significant impact on overall energy use. However, existing parameters do not adequately capture these effects, so the new metrics developed in this paper are used to analyse the impact of thermal mass in hot climates with active cooling, and cold climates with active heating. The results agree with existing literature that high thermal mass structures are likely to be effective in hot climates; however, in cold climates the drawbacks of high thermal mass likely outweigh the advantages, and high thermal mass can cause an increase in energy use. This finding has implications for the design of buildings in cold climates, and contradicts the commonly-held assumption that high thermal mass is correlated with low energy use. The new metrics (transient energy ratio and effective U-value) provide a generalisable method to quantify these effects. They are further used here to analyse the dynamic performance of heavily insulated buildings and show that high thermal mass often leads to higher energy use in cold climates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-121
JournalApplied Energy
Early online date28 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2017


  • Air conditioning
  • Cooling
  • Heating
  • Intermittent occupancy
  • Thermal mass
  • Transient energy ratio

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Energy(all)

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