There’s no feeling quite like entering your home after a walk in the sweltering summer heat, only to discover that the inside feels suspiciously like the outside. Thermal insulation is key to maintaining comfortable temperatures, yet Australian homes are renowned for their poor insulation, and the tendency for homeowners to keep their HVAC systems running routinely during scorching summers and frigid winters. The result is predictable, with heating and cooling constituting approximately 40% of household energy bills.
The topicality of thermal insulation has been an inevitability for cost-effective construction projects seeking to prepare for a challenging future of rising temperatures and energy costs. While boasting uncontested popularity as a reliable, durable, and aesthetically pleasing construction material, the insulative properties of clay bricks still come as a surprise to many. In this article, we’ll break down the key elements of thermal insulation, and explain exactly what it is about bricks that makes them such a tempting choice for architects, builders, and future homeowners seeking an energy-efficient solution for their projects.
Why is thermal insulation important?
The National Construction Code is Australia’s principal set of guidelines for the design and construction of buildings, and designates the requirements for their “safety, health, amenity, accessibility and sustainability”. In August 2022, changes were introduced to the minimum energy rating for new homes, which must now both meet the equivalent of “7-stars NatHERS thermal performance”, and an annual “energy use budget for the whole home”.
Active from October 2023, these changes aim to reduce energy use, emissions, and cost, with the aim of saving Australian homes an estimated $183 annually. They also mean that the design of new homes will need to take into account materials with increased energy efficiency, and materials with high thermal mass are included as part of the list.
How does thermal insulation work?
When you venture outside during a cold winter’s day, you don’t do so in slippers and a tank top. Likely, you don a warm and insulated jacket that keeps your limbs toasty and the cold wind at bay. Now imagine your home as a snug winter jacket- as this is precisely how thermal insulation works. By creating a protective barrier, it can help balance indoor temperatures and prevent heat from escaping outside. Bricks can act as exceptionally tough and durable padding in this metaphorical jacket, helping maintain a pleasant indoor climate.
Why are bricks successful thermal insulators?
No one wants to second-guess their choice in construction materials. Fortunately for architects and builders seeking conclusive answers, there is hard research behind the superiority of bricks as an insulative option for energy-efficient projects. Research by the University of Newcastle reveals that bricks possess impressive thermal performance that placed them above competing materials such as plywood, composite wood, vinyl, fibre cement, and steel. Indeed, Insulated cavity brick construction takes the gold medal, followed by brick veneer in second place, and lightweight construction lagging in the last.
The exceptional performance of clay bricks as thermal insulators can be attributed to two key factors; thermal conductivity and thermal mass. With each working in concert, clay bricks become an exceptional solution for energy-efficient construction.
The first of these factors, thermal conductivity, refers to how easily bricks, as well as other construction materials, conduct heat. Low thermal conductivity indicates that a material reduces heat transfer, making it a good option for creating a barrier for temperature transfer. Of course, this is a desirable trait for creating stable interior environments and means that the results of heating or cooling a given space will last for longer.
Thermal mass refers to the ability of a material to absorb heat. Materials with a high thermal mass can store heat, and then release it slowly, resulting in a more stable indoor climate that reduces fluctuations in temperature.
For future-proofed construction, choose natural clay bricks.
We’re all familiar with bricks- and for good reason! Clay is an abundant natural resource that has garnered historic renown not only for its structural strength but as a sustainable solution in the built environment. With new standards in energy use and an evolving construction industry set to tackle the challenges of a warming climate, bricks present a robust insulative choice for projects that seek to prioritise an energy-efficient and cost-effective future. At Littlehampton Bricks and Pavers, our curated range of unique clay bricks is not only durable and energy efficient but an aesthetically pleasing solution for those seeking to prioritise sustainable construction practices. For more information on our diverse range and how clay bricks may benefit your next project, get in touch with our friendly team at 1800 829 143, or contact us online.