There are three modes of heat transfer: CONDUCTION, CONVECTION, and RADIATION (INFRARED). Of the three, radiation is the primary mode; conduction and convection are secondary and come into play only as matter interrupts or interferes with radiant heat transfer. As matter absorbs radiant energy, it is heated and a gradient temperature develops, which results in molecular motion (conduction in solids) or mass motion (convection in liquids and gas).
All substances, including air spaces and building materials (such as wood, glass, plaster and insulation), obey the same laws of nature and TRANSFER heat. Solid materials differ only in the rate of heat transfer, which is mainly affected by differences in density, weight, shape, permeability and molecular structure. Materials which transfer heat slowly can be said to RESIST heat flow.
Direction of heat transfer is an important consideration. Heat is radiated and conducted in all directions, but convected primarily upward. The figure below show modes of heat loss by houses. In all cases, radiation is the dominant mode.
CONDUCTION is direct heat flow through matter (molecular motion). It results from actual PHYSICAL CONTACT of one part of the same body with another part, or of one body with another. For instance, if one end of an iron rod is heated, the heat travels by conduction through the metal to the other end; it also travels to the surface and is conducted to the surrounding air, which is another, but less dense, body. An example of conduction through contact between two solids is a cooking pot on the solid surface of a hot stove. The greatest flow of heat possible between materials is where there is a direct conduction between solids. Heat is always conducted from warm to cold, never from cold to warm, and always moves via the shortest and easiest route.
In general, the more dense a substance, the better conductor it is. Solid rock, glass and aluminum-being very dense-are good conductors of heat. Reduce their density by mixing air into the mass, and their conductivity is reduced. Because air has low density, the percentage of heat transferred by conduction through air is comparatively small. Two thin sheets of aluminum foil with about one inch of air space in between weigh less than one ounce per square foot. The ratio is approximately 1 of mass to 100 of air, most important in reducing heat flow by conduction. The less dense the mass, the less will be the flow of heat by conduction.
CONVECTION is the transport of heat within a gas or liquid, caused by the actual flow of the material itself (mass motion). In building spaces, natural convection heat flow is largely upward, somewhat sideways, not downward. This is called “free convection.”
For instance, a warm stove, person, floor, wall, etc., loses heat by conduction to the colder air in contact with it. This added heat activates (warms) the molecules of the air which expand, becoming less dense, and rise. Cooler, heavier air rushes in from the side and below to replace it. The popular expression “hot air rises” is exemplified by smoke rising from a chimney or a cigarette. The motion is turbulently upward, with a component of sideways motion. Convection may also be mechanically induced, as by a fan. This is called “forced convection.”
RADIATION is the transmission of electromagnetic rays through space. Radiation, like radio waves, is invisible. Infrared rays occur between light and radar waves (between the 3 -15 micron portion of the spectrum). Henceforth, when we speak of radiation, we refer only to infrared rays. Each material that has a temperature above absolute zero (-459-7 F.) emits infrared radiation, including the sun, icebergs, stoves or radiators, humans, animals, furniture, ceilings, walls, floors, etc.
All objects radiate infrared rays from their surfaces in all directions, in a straight line, until they are reflected or absorbed by another object. Traveling at the speed of light, these rays are invisible, and they have NO TEMPERATURE, only ENERGY. Heating an object excites the surface molecules, causing them to give off infrared radiation. When these infrared rays strike the surface of another object, the rays are absorbed and only then is heat produced in the object. This heat spreads throughout the mass by conduction. The heated object then transmits infrared rays from exposed surfaces by radiation if these surfaces are exposed directly to an air space.
The amount of radiation emitted is a function of the EMISSIVITY factor of the source’s surface. EMISSIVITY is the rate at which radiation (EMISSION) is given off. Absorption of radiation by an object is proportional to the absorptivity factor of its surface which is reciprocal of its emissivity.
Although two objects may be identical, if the surface of one were covered with a material of 90% emissivity, and the surface of the other with a material of 5% emissivity, the result would be a drastic difference in the rate of radiation flow from these two objects. This is demonstrated by comparison of four identical, equally heated iron radiators covered with different materials. Paint one with aluminum paint and another with ordinary enamel. Cover the third with asbestos and the fourth with aluminum foil. Although all have the same temperature, the one covered with aluminum foil would radiate the least (lowest [5%] emissivity). The radiators covered with ordinary paint or asbestos would radiate most because they have the highest emissivity (even higher than the original iron). Painting over the aluminum paint or foil with ordinary paint changes the surface to 90% emissivity.
Materials whose surfaces do not appreciably reflect infrared rays, i.e.: paper, asphalt, wood, glass and rock, have absorption and emissivity rates ranging from 80% to 93%. Most materials used in building construction — brick, stone, wood, paper, and so on — regardless of their color, absorb infrared radiation at about 90%. It is interesting to note that a mirror of glass is an excellent reflector of light but a very poor reflector of infrared radiation. Mirrors have about the same reflectivity for infrared as a heavy coating of black paint.
The surface of aluminum has the ability NOT TO ABSORB, but TO REFLECT 95% of the infrared rays which strike it. Since aluminum foil has such a low mass to air ratio, very little conduction can take place, particularly when only 5% of the rays are absorbed.
TRY THIS EXPERIMENT: Hold a sample of FOIL INSULATION close to your face, without touching. Soon you will feel the warmth of your own infrared rays bouncing back from the SURFACE. The explanation: The emissivity of heat radiation of the surface of your face is 99%. The absorption of aluminum insulation is only 5%. It sends back 95% of the rays. The absorption rate of your face is 99%. The net result is that you feel the warmth of your face reflected.