Phase change in buildings
To help develop this article, click ‘Edit this article’ above.
When systems change phase, they absorb or release significant amounts of heat energy (latent heat, expressed in J/kg). The systems themselves do not change temperature as the energy is consumed or generated by the physical process of changing the state of the system. For example, when water evaporates, it absorbs heat, producing a cooling effect. So when water evaporates from the surface of a building, or when sweat evaporates from the skin, this has a cooling effect. Conversely, when water condenses it releases heat.
Phase change is also important in refrigeration, where refrigerant gases absorb heat from the cooling medium (typically water) as they evaporate, and release heat when they condense, which is rejected to the outside (or recovered). The exact opposite of this process is used to generate heat in heat pumps.
A newly-emerging application of phase change in buildings is the use of phase change materials (PCM). These are generally materials with a large specific latent heat capacity. They can be used in construction to reduce internal temperature changes by storing latent heat in the solid-liquid or liquid-gas phase change of a material. Heat is absorbed and released almost isothermally and is used to reduce the energy consumed by conventional heating and cooling systems by reducing peak loads.
Phase change materials used in buildings will typically melt and solidify within a range of 18-30ºC. They are able to store up to 14 times more thermal energy per unit volume than conventional thermal storage materials.
See phase change materials for more information.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
Green paper published for consultation.
Mental health issues effect 80% of construction workers. Read our interview with the founders of a new wellbeing initiative.
Would Stephenson be disappointed by the lack of progress on the high speed transport of Hyperloop?
The immersive pop-up cinema experience that could revolutionise on-site health and safety training.
5 out of 10 filtering facepieces fail HSE tests.
Eleven Magazine announce the winner and runners-up in their Moontopia competition.
As January is the time for hitting the gym, Designing Buildings Wiki lists the best gym architecture in the world.
London is at the top of the list of global construction megacities, beating Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
What are the innovative business models of the future, and how to incentivise supply chains to work on a whole life basis?