The quest for improved insulation and with it more comfortable interior spaces that don’t break the bank to heat or cool using artificial means is an ongoing pursuit in construction circles. And it makes little difference whether it is being applied to an office space or a residential dwelling.
There are many debates around the subject, pushed by the interest groups selling or promoting the latest in insulation technology: The clay brick manufacturers, the innovative building technology fraternity and the many companies in between.
A new concept has developed in recent years: That of using liquid to help regulate interior temperatures regardless of whether it is hot or cold outside. Similar to the liquid-cooling technology employed in computer science, where 2D silicon chips could not be made any smaller for fear of overheating and helped in the development of 3D processors which are cooled using fluids, liquid engineering is being tested in the built environment.
Water House is a research project aimed at extending liquid engineering from processors to the built environment. “The goal and the methods are similar,” says Dr Matyas Gutai, a Hungarian architect and founder of Allwater, who designed a house where the walls are filled with water to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. “In order to achieve energy efficiency, the built structure is defined as a hybrid system. All structural elements are constructed utilising water and a thin solid shell. The fluid volumes are united and assure a new energy model for the building. The Water House model is a completely new solution for sustainability and energy conservation. Based on the earth’s thermodynamic model which causes insulation (air), mass (soil) and distribution (water) to work together to achieve energy balance and an ideal microclimate.”
Gutai says that in current times, the question of sustainability cannot be properly answered because all the focus is on the model and not the structure of that model. “Architecture today stands on use of solids only,” he says. “These materials are practical in many ways, but there are some properties in which they are much less effective.
“A conventional house will stand and ensure ideal thermal conditions. A house can have light construction, but then good indoor climate is compromised: for perfect thermal comfort air and surrounding surfaces need ideal temperature; but without thermal mass that cannot be assured.
“This is because the problem is with the model, not with the structure, and the way we build. Having a traditional house is like having a cup with a hole and trying to keep the water inside by making the hole smaller. This only slows down the process.”
His Water House project combines solids, fluids and gas to work together and all serve their intended purposes: Air insulates, soil gives geometry and water provides thermal storage and distribution.
“Water House works exactly the same way,” says Gutai. “Currently our buildings have only mass and insulation which helps to protect indoor climates to a certain extent. But the process is slow: some parts of our buildings can be too hot and at the same time others cold because of the lack of connection between them. Water House is not simply an improvement on the classic model, it is a completely new type of structure. Fluid infill is not only a superb heat storage opportunity, but is also perfect for heating and cooling, and distribution to maintain an ideal thermal balance indoors.”
Gutai claims the system can slash up to 20% off a home’s energy bills and, if combined with renewable energy, could take it off grid completely.
His design creates glass and steel panels which can be fitted together and filled with water to create a thin layer of water in the walls, roof and floor.
“Instead of insulating the building, you have a structure that absorbs energy and reuses it for later,” he says. “You can have a sustainable house without any insulation at all.”
And because all the water is connected, heat is shared equally around the house. Any excess heat is able to be stored in water-filled heat traps below the house for use when the weather turns again.
“Fluid infill is not only a superb heat storage opportunity, it is also perfect for heating and cooling, and also distributing to maintain an ideal thermal balance indoors,” he says. “In addition to thermal comfort, the system is also energy efficient. The panel utilises the total surface as a ‘battery’ to capture heat load during the whole year to use it in winter. This gives considerable energy savings, because the ‘heat trap’ not only allows cheap heating energy reserves, but also cools the house in summer.”