Did you know that 30% of all global energy is due to the human desire for thermal comfort? Due to the desire of customizing an environment for personal satisfaction, energy usage increases to maintain this set temperature, longer.
While the search for a balance between comfort level and energy consumption has been a constant theme in architectural design and buildings, this ongoing global growth has created more urgency for energy efficient buildings and ways to reduce usage. Because phase change materials (PCMs) have the ability to store and release large amounts of energy, architects continue to research and develop building applications that utilize this technology.
Building applications using PCMs are generally divided into two areas — passive and active systems. Passive systems achieve their energy benefit through the collecting, storing and releasing of energy throughout the structure of the building. In contrast PCMs in active environments are added to heating and cooling systems to increase the efficiency of fans, pumps or other powered systems, also reducing energy consumption.
When selecting PCMs for use in building and construction, it is important to align the product within the human comfort range, 24°C (77°F) – 28°C (82°F). When designing in this environment, there are multiple benefits to consider.
When incorporated into walls, PCMs help maintain a consistent temperature by minimizing highs and lows. As the temperature of a room increases, the energy is stored by the PCM, maintaining a constant room temperature. This energy will then be released back to the room when the temperature begins to drop. Therefore, an environment that has a controlled and more consistent temperature requires less adjustments from heating and cooling systems. Air conditioning units and furnaces will run less, extending equipment life and reducing energy.
The same thermal benefits that exist when PCMs are used in the construction of a wall can also be applied to a number of other substrates. This type of thermal application has successfully been incorporated into curtains (link to case study), wall coverings and ceiling tiles. Because of the versatility of PCMs, virtually any large surface in a room or building could aid in regulating temperature.
While there are many benefits and applications where phase change materials can be used, it is important to consider all factors to achieve the best results. You must consider the type of building structure, regional climate of the location and the purpose or use of the building. These variables can impact the performance of the building and the overall effectiveness of the PCMs.