Maximize your Girth… um… er… Mass!!

27 Jan

Welcome Campers… to another exciting episode of:

“Household Electrical? Hey, no problem! I got miles of extension cord, and a staple gun!” LOL!

But, seriously folks, it’s like this…

Sometimes the things you want, aren’t the same as the things you can afford. And, in the “Land of Ronin,” that covers miles and miles. I mean, I’d like a Ferrari, and a Yacht, and a Big Mac (hold the pickles…), but…

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Recovering from a disaster is difficult, under the best circumstances. And disasters seems to rated by their shock value… So, I’ll put your minds to rest… A dingo didn’t eat our baby… A hurricane ate our house.

I pity the dingo stupid enough to try and eat OUR “baby.” Josh would use him as a pull-toy, until the dingo puked! LOL!

Anyway… the insurance company we trusted, turned out to be in rather short supply of “trustworthiness.” And, that’s a dilemma when your family needs a safe place to live (that you can afford) especially while much of the deep south is falling into chaos faster than a “Redneck rush for the BBQ Buffet…” LOL!

You see, like many other parts of the country, this economic disaster we’re experiencing is hitting really hard. Unemployment is at an all-time low, state government services have been cut to a bare minimum, and credit is a word only uttered in despair. I have several neighbors who have become unemployed, in the last few months. You’d be amazed by all the vacant storefronts in our area, lately. It’s starting to look like a ghost-town.

You know it’s getting bad, when “Biloxi Bertha’s House ‘O’ Crap” closes. I mean, she’d give you cash for anything you could drag in, and now… sniff… she’s gone. Oh woe is me…

And I could belly-ache about it for hours (perhaps even days) but it wouldn’t get my family into a safe place, now would it? Hmmm?

So, I’m just gonna build a house, with whatever I can find, and trust in my skills as a “creative genius” to get it past Planning and Zoning…

Now, I know what you’re thinking… If you’ve been hanging out here long, you already know that Ronin isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, Ronin ain’t even got a shed!

Wait! I’m building a “Pallet Barn…” Does that count?

But, I’ve always been resourceful, and I’ve always been the “idiot savant” in the family. Or was it just the “family idiot?” I forget…

So, I’m embarking on an expedition that will make the Iditarod look like Spring Break! I’m going to build a house out of (gasp!) Shipping containers. That’s right… shipping containers. Now, once you decide that you’re gonna use them to provide shelter, instead of hauling everything in G_d’s creation across the “briny blue…” they  call ’em “ISBU’s,” which stands for “Intermodal Steel Building Units.”


Now, I’m going to add some other stuff to the construction pile, like recycled aircraft hanger components (steel) and whatever else I can find, but in the end, I’ll be in a safe, affordable, alternative home that will provide my family’s needs and make the nosy neighbors mad at the same time! Who could ask for more? Hmmm?

In the last few posts, I’ve been talking about “Rules to live by…” when building a home, in the 21st century. Now, none of these rules require a degree in Nuclear Physics, and almost anybody can accomplish these tasks, if they just plan carefully, and put their backs into it. Thank goodness, because like I said, I’m not exactly Albert Einstein… more like Alfred E. Neuman… LOL!

(If you don’t know who that is… well, just “google” it…)

We’ve been talking about harnessing the sun for something besides developing skin cancer, and we’ve explored using SIPs (remember that SIPs are “Structural Insulating Panels) to build a home quickly, efficiently, and without creating a container full of waste (scraps.)

Today, we’re gonna touch on another rule…

“Maximize Your Girth… um… er… Mass!“

Now, I know all about saving up for winter. I have several pairs of jeans that I couldn’t squeeze into unless you buttered my butt with Parkay! And although it’s good to prepare for the season, I need to shed a few pounds, to get ready for some hard work. Building a house is exactly the opposite. You WANT your house to have mass. In fact, the creation of carefully placed mass can actually help you, and save you money.

How? Well, I’m glad you asked…

According to studies, a heavier house is a much more comfortable, energy efficient house with much more stable temperatures year round. This means it’s warmer in winter, and cooler in summer.

Remember that if you position your home properly, you can use the sun to heat the mass within your house. Capish? That “custom concrete” floor is starting to look better now, huh? And, those concrete pillars and posts can be “heat sinks” too. They’ll store up heat during the day, and then, ever so slowly dissipate it at night. This will help cut your heating bill. And all for the price of concrete, one time.

Let’s think about this for a minute, okay?

A lot of people are apparently still willing to settle for high-cost, low-performance passive solar house heating techniques, that get them a 30% yearly savings in backup space heating costs over a 20 year payback period, vs. warmstores, solar closets, sunspaces and transparent siding, which really can save close to 100% of the space heating energy needed for a house AND provide close to 100% of the hot water needed for a house, as well, also, too, over the top, with a payback period of a year or two.”

Let’s boil it down to the “Essentials;”

What is “Thermal Mass?”

“Thermal Mass” is a wall… solid masonry wall works well – that stores about 90 calories per pound per  degree Fahrenheit.

“I’m supposed to store my Ho-Ho’s and Twinkies in the wall? Whaaaa?”

Redneck translation: The more massive the wall is, the better off you are. Thermal walls need to be  thermally conductive so that the energy stored in one place moves uniformly across the wall for re-radiation.

And, if that wasn’t confusing enough, in some instances, “cores” are added to these walls to increase their efficiency. If either eutectic or para-tetic salts are included in the Thermal Mass wall, this could add significantly to the stored energy – obtaining up to 36,000 calories per pound stored as part of the phase change from solid to liquid.

It’s all about “exposure.” Remember, exposing yourself is usually either a felony or “a family tragedy,” so act accordingly… LOL!

By using selective “Solar Exposure” you can regulate the heat gains in your thermal mass. Collect sunlight in the winter, reflect or conceal it in Summer. And you can reflect sunlight (heat) with glazing on glass. Using a “control surface” (awning) can conceal your windows, blocking summer sun but not winter sun.  The end result is a wall or floor that radiates stored heat back into your house, when you need it.

(Remember that your thermal mass wall can be be either interior or exterior.)

It’s as simple as using the flooring and slab as a radiator… remember?
And thermal mass doesn’t have to be ugly. You can paint a mass wall any color you want, as long as it’s black… LOL! Actually, according to that damned study, dark colors are the best. Painted on or natural pigment, dark surfaces work better in absorbing the sun’s energy. (If it’s me, I just use tinted concrete.)

And don’t forget about your windows. Glass windows are your “lenses.” That glass lets through the optical energy from the sun. The wall radiates in the infrared, which does not pass through glass. Hence, the energy is trapped, and infrared radiant energy is very pleasant to the human body.

I’m not sure how it affects “alien bodies,” but I’m not building in Roswell, anyway… LOL!

On an exterior wall, install double-pane (or even triple in very cold regions) windows. (Don’t scrimp here, as the money you spent on windows will either be a boon to you, or a curse, for many years to come. Buy the best windows you can afford.) Glass plating separation depends on the temperature gradients. Generally, in the US, this “separation” amounts to about 3/4th inch.

Using thermal mass is pretty simple, right? There aren’t many questions about it to answer except…

After all this is said and done, what are the real advantages?

Comfortable heat is created by the thermal wall. The wall or mass radiates in the infra red spectrum, which is more penetrating and pleasant than traditional convective forced air heating systems.

And, you get this heat without any moving parts! That means no warranty, no repairs, and best of all, no maintenance.

And, it’s easy. The construction is simple and anybody who can wield a hammer, a wheelbarrow, or a nailgun can usually do it.


I still can’t figure out why everybody runs when I get out my nailgun…

It’s relatively easy to incorporate thermal mass into a building structure as an internal or external wall. Materials (masonry, concrete) are relatively inexpensive. And construction is fast, fast, fast! (Except for the time I spend in the ER…)


Oh… now I know why they run… OUCH!

Including thermal mass in your design is one of the most effective ways to heat your space, I guarantee! It can reduce heating bills by large amounts. And, by large, I’m talking about more than enough to buy a few extra boxes of Krispy Kreme’s! LOL!

So, a smart builder uses as much concrete as possible in ALL floors both at and above grade.

There’s other ways to increase the mass in your house too, besides inviting your Mother-In-Law to move in… boycotting the gym, or passing on that last piece of pie…

But, how can you accomplish this, and not have to spend your kids college fund on the construction?

Instead of using high-cost granites and laminate countertops, cast them out of concrete. I know… this sounds disgustingly ugly, but you’d be surprised at what you can do with a “blank slate” of concrete.

Hey, let me point out that here in the south, especially by all the ponds and waterways, concrete is for more than using to weigh down the “evidence” of the pesky neighbors intrusions into your privacy! LOL!

Concrete actually offers many features that are highly sought after in countertops. Concrete is naturally heat resistant. It is also amazingly anti-bacterial. Plus, concrete can be mixed in any array of colors to coordinate with your space. And it’s CONCRETE… The moldable qualities enable you to create almost any size and shape. Get creative! You can add objects like broken glass or stones (or anything else you have laying around), to the mix to create more interest.


Not bad looking… right?

conc-counter1See? Nobody would know this countertop came out of a BAG…

I added some LEGOS I found on the floor once. Boy, did my kid get mad at me! LOL!


See? Concrete can be quite fashionable!

But a white kitchen? Not in MY house! LOL!

Now, the skeptics will say that concrete is very labor intensive and therefore usually commands a hefty price tag. Bull. It’s definitely within reach of DIY’rs… And adding a new custom concrete countertop to your kitchen will give you and your friends something to talk about.

I’ve personally used concrete in some pretty unorthodox ways, and people couldn’t tell what it really was! (And, they were happy with the results, too!)

Okay… not all of them were “happy.” But, they can’t tell on me, either… LOL!

And it doesn’t stop at concrete! You can use 2 layers of 5/8” sheetrock throughout the house. Sheetrock isn’t really that expensive, so it’s a cheap, very effective, way to add acoustical isolation from room to room. This results in more substantial feeling walls, and makes hanging pictures much easier! Another benefit is that your walls are straighter, double sheetrock means doubles fire resistance, and using two sheets of sheetrock only requires using thicker interior prehung doors/jambs.

And, this isn’t gonna cause you any real harm either, in the “glazing department.” Window jambs are typically not full depth, so it rarely affects them.

Here’s another way to save cash and gain efficiency… Think about avoiding carpet! Whaaaa? You can use stone, very dense wood such as bamboo or FSC certified hardwoods, ceramic tile, etc for floors and finishes.

There you have it. Everything you never wanted to know about “mass.” Now, if I could just reduce mine by a few (okay… 20) pounds, those jeans would fit nicely…

Next time, we’ll tackle “In-Floor Heating…” or “Josh, don’t fry eggs on the floor! Argh! Somebody get the dog!”

Stay tuned!
The Renaissance Ronin