There has been some discussion in the Architectural Design industry about Thermal bridging and how it affects a buildings thermal performance. Using design accreditation systems such as Homestar and Passive House, as Architects and Architectural Designer have design tools to anticipate the architectural performance of our designs and therefor allow us to see the effect of designing out thermal bridging at the design stage, rather than relying on feedback from the built form and installation of additional expensive systems to counterbalance unnecessary heat loss.

Thermal bridging can seem a foreign concept to those not in the Architectural realm so here is a brief explanation in plain English as to what it is and why it’s important to consider.

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What is thermal bridging?

Thermal bridging is when an element or junction in the construction of a building allows heat to leave the building through what we call the thermal envelope (exterior facing walls, windows and doors, floor, and roof typically). This means that the thermal envelope does not perform as well as it could, and this heat can be saved and better used inside the building rather than lost. Different materials have varying thermal conductivity, so the higher the thermal conductivity of an element, the more heat an element can transmit, and there for the more heat it can lose in the thermal envelope.

To explain this in simple everyday terms. We use steel and aluminium pans to cook our food in. This is because steel is a good conductor of heat, so heat from the stove can move through the pan to our food.

Timber conducts heat far more than insulation, which is why we install insulation into our floors, walls, and roofs. So, while we get values called R values bantered around, it does not matter how good your insulation is, if there is lots of timber in vulnerable junctions such as internal and external corners of your building, it is less effective, and heat is lost unnecessarily and easily.

Thermal bridging can only be designed out. It’s about making junctions work structurally whilst also making them work better thermally.  This is not easily remedied on site. It’s a hard component to quantify in as build performance, but one that if considered early on can make a silent but big difference to thermal comfort, without influencing construction costs. 


Why is this important?

Our energy and electricity bills are only getting higher. Our homes get quite hot in summer and cold in winter. Comfortable homes need energy to counteract the undesirable conditions outside both in summer and winter. It is smart to consider how to make the best and most efficient use of the energy we use to create our comfortable homes. That means plugging the leaks in the construction so we can avoid accidental losses and therefor additional energy spending on heating. This conversely also helps with undesirable heat gains in summer so can also reduce cost of running fans etc. Thermal bridges are one of the accidental items that we can design out of our buildings, so we do not have to spend on compensating for our indoor thermal comfort. It is about being smarter so we can make our living spaces healthier and more affordable to live in.

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Architectural Design services for Waikato, Cambridge, Raglan, Hamilton, Morrinsville, Matamata and Te Awamutu.


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Offsite NZ Member    Licenced Building Practitioner    New Zealand Green Building Council Passive Designer Homestar Designer
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