Thermal bridging in buildings
A thermal bridge (sometimes referred to as thermal bridging, a cold bridge or thermal bypass) describes a situation in a building where there is a direct connection between the inside and outside through one or more elements that are more thermally conductive than the rest of the building envelope.
As a result, there will be wasteful heat transfer across this element, its internal surface temperature will be different from other, better insulated internal surfaces and there may be condensation where warm, moist internal air comes into contact with the, potentially cold, surface. This condensation can result in mould growth.
In modern buildings, thermal bridging can occur because of poor design, or poor workmanship. This is common where elements of the building penetrate through its insulated fabric, for example around glazing, or where the structure penetrates the building envelope, such as at balconies.
However, as buildings have become better insulated, with increasingly strict regulation, so thermal bridges that might previously have been considered insignificant in terms of the overall thermal performance of a building, can actually be the cause of considerable thermal inefficiency. There is the potential for such inefficiency at every opening and every junction (even in party walls).
The Approved Documents to Part L of the building regulations (Conservation of fuel and power) state that 'The building fabric should be constructed so that there are no reasonably avoidable thermal bridges in the insulation layers caused by gaps within the various elements, at the joints between elements and at the edges of elements such as those around window and door openings.' They require that where unaccredited construction details are used, generic linear thermal bridge values must be increased by levels (depending on the building type) set out in the Approved Documents for the calculations of building emission rates (BER) or dwelling emission rates (DER).
Thermal bridges in completed buildings can be revealed with thermal imaging cameras (see Thermographic survey), but they can be very difficult to rectify, particularly if they are repeated throughout a building.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Accredited construction details ACDs.
- Air tightness in buildings.
- Building fabric.
- Cavity wall.
- Co-heating test.
- Computational fluid dynamics.
- Conventions for calculating linear thermal transmittance and temperature factors.
- Defects in dot and dab.
- Emission rates in the building regulations.
- Floor insulation.
- Insulation for ground floors.
- Insulation specification.
- Interstitial condensation.
- Mould growth.
- Rising damp.
- Roof insulation.
- Solid wall insulation.
- Thermal comfort.
- Thermographic survey.
Featured articles and news
Read about RSHP's British Museum extension which has been shortlisted for the 2017 Stirling Prize.
Read our introductory article to building a house extension.
More updates from DCMS about the large-scale testing of cladding systems and the number of buildings affected.
UandI secure resolution to grant planning consent for major new regeneration project.
IHBC article considers how heritage is dealt with when infrastructure schemes are authorised.
It was the tallest structure in the world for 3,800 years, but to this day the exact construction techniques are a mystery.
Shortlist for the industry's most coveted award announced.
Government responds to Mark Farmer's review of industry, rejecting the call for a levy on clients.
Peter Hansford to examine what wider lessons can be learned from the fire.
Every project is subject to uncertainty. How can construction better understand uncertainty for performance improvement?
MAD Architects reveal their designs for a futuristic campus for electric car manufacturer.
Homebuyers could borrow more with better forecasting of energy bills, according to industry consortium's new report.
Read our introductory article on carbon capture and storage.
Have a look at Frank Gehry's Binoculars Building in Los Angeles.