A very modern and efficient type of flooring is concrete. It has the ability to absorb heat from direct sunlight, store the heat and release it slowly. The ability of concrete to absorb and store heat energy is called “thermal mass”. In addition to the design advantages of concrete flooring, they are an inexpensive way of regulating the temperature inside a house. They also require minimal maintenance, are long lasting, are relatively inexpensive, and can be designed with a number of different finishes and textures.
If insulated from the ground and significantly exposed to direct winter sunlight, a concrete floor will soak up heat during the day and release it slowly at night (called “solar gain”).
A house can be designed to achieve a good deal of passive heating. Windows need to be designed and positioned in the home to allow as much of the sun’s heat as possible to be absorbed by the floors. In summer, when the sun is higher in the sky, the floors should be mostly shielded from the sun with overhangs, so the house stays cool. Natural ventilation can also bring cool air into the house at night, allowing the flooring to absorb the cool air and release it during the day, as the air gets hotter.
In some cases, concrete is placed around the perimeter of the room close to windows to allow for the best exposure of the sun’s heat; other materials can be used on the flooring in the center of the room. Concrete or other thermal mass materials (e.g. stone, masonry) can also be located close to a wood burner, so the heat can be absorbed and released when the fire is out.
A radiant floor heating system can do double-duty in the summer when its piping is filled with chilled water. Heating and cooling a house this way also improves air quality, because unlike a forced air system, there’s nothing blowing dust and pollutants through the air. Radiant heating systems also make zoning simpler because each room can be controlled individually.
The clean lines and easy maintenance of concrete floors has made them increasing popular in new homes in the United States and around the world.
For additional information about concrete flooring check the web site of the Portland Cement Association.