Bringing Thermal Mass Inside

In a previous post we spoke about the importance of using thermal mass on the inside of a home in a hot humid climate like that in Bryan and College Station.  This time we will talk about home design ideas that will help achieve this.

The Foundation

Most homes in the Brazos valley are built on monolithic slab foundations.  Not only is this probably the largest structure in your home, it is also tied to the earth; which actually provides geothermal heating and cooling.  Though a floor may be cool to bare feet in the winter, most of the time it is much warmer than the outside temperature.  Most builders use a great deal of carpet as a means  of keeping the cost per square foot low.  Although this is an effective way to reduce the upfront cost of a home, it covers and minimizes a large and expensive asset.

Maintaining the thermal mass of the foundation is a great way to reduce energy costs.  This can be accomplished by staining the concrete or, more commonly, by using a stone or tile on the floor.  For those cold winter feet, use area rugs in high traffic areas.  This allows enough exposure of large areas of thermal mass to be of benefit.


While most fireplaces are a large source of energy loss, using rock or brick around them can add beauty and thermal mass.  In your home design, consider extending this outcrop of hard surface.  However, be mindful of the connection of this thermal mass to the outside where it will conduct outside temperatures into the house.

Rock walls

In our custom designed homes, we usually incorporate rock or brick walls where possible.  This is especially effective at entryways where a visual connection to the outside material can help create continuity.  Thermal mass walls can add contrast and texture to tall walls.  An especially beautiful wall can be created with a process called rammed earth; which is exactly what it sounds like.  A precise combination of sand and clay is used to create a manufactured sandstone using pressure to form the structure.

These are not features commonly found in tract homes as they add to the cost per square foot but they add beauty, grandeur, elegance and energy efficiency which makes them a great consideration for custom homes.  These can be considered practices for green homes but they are smart and beautiful practices for any home.

Thermal Mass in Hot Humid Climates

This is a visual of the effect thermal mass has on your home.

  Here in College Station and Bryan we have a very hot and humid climate, which presents a unique set of design and construction challenges.  For one, traditional approaches to thermal mass walls are out for us. However, this potentially beautiful design approach is not necessarily a bad idea; if we modify its application from what is traditional.

Thermal mass is thick, highly dense material. This category includes stone, adobe, and brick.  The idea is that through the hot day, heat does not penetrate the full depth of the thermal mass. Then, at night the outside temperature cools down enough to pull the heat out of the wall so that the process can start over the next day.  Yet, because our humidity is high, we do not cool down enough at night to pull the heat out of the wall. Consequently, over time the wall serves to heat the building.

It is odd that brick is the preferred veneer through most of the hot and humid gulf coast south.  Even though this is not usually structural brick, there is an air space between the brick and the insulated wall. Nonetheless, the brick is a very affective solar collector that creates a hot surface next to the house.

On my own house that was built in 1950 and once had a 100% brick veneer, I removed all of the brick that was serving to heat my home. I replaced the brick with a second insulated wall and sided it with fiber cement siding.   In doing this, I was able to more than double the insulation, create a better air seal and reduce the heat next to the house.  I also happen to think that it looks a lot better.

Okay, so now that we understand the process of eliminating thermal mass, how can we use it to positively affect the Brazos Valley? As we pointed out, thermal mass works well in hot, dry climates that cool down at night.  In a hot, humid climate we can bring the thermal mass inside, away from the source of heat; and have it work for us.  When this is done, the mass assumes the ambient inside temperature.  Consequently, as temperatures rise through the hot part of the day, it helps to reduce the cooling load required to keep the house comfortable.  It does this by absorbing some of the heat in the air.  Although the same amount of energy is needed throughout the day, there is less of a peak load required for the hottest part of the day; which allows us to reduce the size of equipment needed to keep the house cool.

Unfortunately, more research is needed to quantify this effect.  Currently, there is nothing in the program that calculates equipment size that takes this into account.  Good air conditioning companies are reluctant to deviate from the standard sizing of equipment.  We love our AC mechanic and have a huge amount of trust in him. However, we frequently push him to reduce equipment size because we design in ways that reduce load but that are not considered in load calculations.

Next time I will talk about using interior thermal mass in home design.

Why We Recommend Metal Roofs

Why We Recommend Metal Roofs

There are many advantages to standing seam metal roofs, which is why we recommend them to our clients for most home projects.

Traditional composite roofs absorb a lot of heat much of which gets transferred into the home. Light metal roofs do a great job of reflecting radiation. They also do not hold heat. These features make metal roofs especially appropriate for homes located in hot climates.

Metal roofs also lasts about two to three times longer than conventional roofs.

Another thing that we like about standing seam metal roofs is that most profiles accept a clip to provide connection for solar panels and to water systems without penetrating the roof.

Metal roofs can also be attached to lathing or a series of narrow strips of wood, used with other strips to form latticework to create a support for many types of roofing material thus allowing for increased ventilation under them, providing even more cooling.

Not everyone likes the look of metal roofs but for most home styles we think they work very well. And they have a broad popularity in the design community.

The primary drawback is that metal roofs cost more than traditional roofs do. But when considered over their entire life, they are a bargain. The value of metal roofs is well recognized in home appraisals, which means that their life long value will be considered when your home is put on the market.

To view an example of a metal roof on one of our very own Stearns Design-Build homes, check out our beautiful bright yellow custom built house soon to be completed on our Houzz site.

The Sensual Home

Last week we talked about the Transitions theory of design that helps connect a home, and the people in it, to natural and community environments beyond. This week we want to bring the focus inward and talk about the sensual home. A well designed home will engage all of our senses.


Sight is perhaps the most obvious sense when we think about design. There are many ways a home can engage our eyes. We can create pleasing sight lines inside the home and also can attract our gaze beyond the home. We can use trim details to frame an attractive vista or invite us into a room. We can take advantage of natural lighting to make a room come alive as it changes throughout the day. Or, we can use artificial light to set a mood for the room or assist in a certain task.


Sound plays an important part in design. What can we do to allow sound to enhance our homes? We can place a water feature near a sleeping area to provide a restful atmosphere. We can entice songbirds to visit so that we can enjoy their songs as we eat breakfast. We can create a whole house sound system or perhaps focus on a specific room, so that music can add joy to our every day.


Smell may seem an odd design criterion, but it is also very important. Smell evokes memories of the past. While we are unlikely to be able to duplicate the smell of Grandma’s special cookies baking, we understand that fond memories are associated with the smell of good food cooking. Other smells such as a fresh breeze, old books, or a rose garden may stir memories within us. It is important to use design to capture such elements that will delight us and those who visit our home.


Providing contrasting textures in design can invite us to notice our sense of touch. Connecting and interacting with our natural environment also enlivens our sense of touch. Creating an outdoor space where we can sit and read a book while feeling the breeze can rejuvenate us. Outdoor showers that provide privacy and an intimate connection to the natural environment are becoming increasingly popular.


For most families, the kitchen is the heart of the house. It is where we spend time creating the food we love, food that is often defined by where we grew up and our ethnic and religious upbringing. When entertaining, the kitchen becomes the focal point. When we can tie what we eat and how we eat to the design of our home, we can create a sense of connection that allows us to feel happy and well nourished.

Our home is much more than a place to sleep and watch television. When we allow our homes to engage all our senses, we create more the just space – we create lifestyle.

Current Projects: Bathroom Vanity Update

Here are some more progress pictures of the Lewis’ master bath vanity!Evan’s Cabinet & Door fabricated the drawer and door fronts which are designed to be inset intothe cabinet base(meaning they are flush with the face of the cabinet). Joe built drawer boxes for these and has installed both the doors and drawers.

Below, the vanity has been stained and installed —

The countertop and sink have been installed in this photo below – you can also see that hardware has been added to the doors & drawers. In the top right corner of the photo is a Stearns’ custom- built jewelry box, with a lace front to hang earrings.

Here the tile backsplash has been installed and is waiting to be grouted

Check back soon for a picture of the completed Master Bathroom Vanity! And be sure to tell us what you think!