Free-standing column of stones
for a heat store without fans
David M. Delaney, Ottawa, May 2005
keywords: thermal mass, thermal
capacity, heat store, thermal closet, solar air heater, passive solar,
solar greenhouse, sunspace, gabion, gabions, permeable sides, permeable retainer,
bin of stones, rock bed, packed bed, bed of stones, column of stones,
forced convection, unforced convection, natural convection, free
An enclosure filled with small stones may store heat from a solar air
heater for later use. Warm air from the heater enters an opening
in the enclosure, and passes through the stones. As the warm
air moves through the cool stones, the stones heat and the air
cools. Cool air passes out of the enclosure
through a different opening and back to the air
heater to be heated again.
If insulated or otherwise impermeable walls provide the only support
sides of a mass of stones, air enters and leaves the mass
the top and bottom. Unless the horizontal extent of the mass of stones
(and the enclosure) is very large, fans may be needed to drive
air in and out of the
enclosure. When air can enter and leave the mass of stones
at any point on
its sides, the needed air movement may be driven entirely by the
difference in weight between equal volumes of warm and cool
The remainder of this note describes the construction of a free-standing column of stones confined within a wire mesh..
Crushed stone packs too tightly, impeding air flow.
Diameter of stones is 38 mm to 68 mm. (1-1/2" to 2-1/2")
Volume of stones = 5 x 5 x (pi /4) x 8 = 157 ft3 = 4.45 m3
Void ratio = 0.4 (60% of the volume is solid stone).
Density of stone = 2400 kg/m3
Specific heat of stone = 880 J/kg.C
The thermal capacity of this column of stones is therefore
4.45 m3 x 0.6 x 2400 kg x 880 J/kg-C
= 5.64 MJ/C, or 2970 Btu/F
Wire mesh is supplied
economically in rolls up to 48" (1219 mm) wide. The following
instructions assume this format. The column shown above is 5 feet
(1542 mm) in diameter and 8 feet (2438 mm) high. Two 20' (6.1
m) lengths of 48" (1219 mm) wide wire mesh form the
compressive skin of the stone column.
This diagram displays a method of constructing a wire mesh cylinder to form the compressive skin of the column.
No overlap is needed between lower and upper horizontal panels. A
second layer of wire mesh (see below) provides vertical tension
The 2" OD pipes ("tension pipes") equalize the tension on the
horizontal wires of the mesh and reduce stress concentration in the
wires of the mesh near the vertical seam.
Draw the tension pipes together
to close the cylinder. Bolt them together with U-bolts.
flaps of mesh extending from the tension pipes to the interior
of the cylinder fold back, D, E, against the interior
of the cylinder. The flaps may be wired lightly to the outer
layer of mesh to facilitate handling during construction, but they are
held immobile against the tension of the outer layer of mesh
entirely by the frictional forces caused by contact with the tension
pipes and by the pressure of the stones filling the cylinder.
The vertical tension strength of the skin of the column can be greatly
enhanced by inserting long panels of wire mesh ("vertical tension
inserts") against the interior of the outer layer of mesh. The
inserts will also greatly increase resistance to local blowouts.
They may be wired lightly to the outer mesh for handling convenience
during construction, but their resistance to vertical tension is due
entirely to their tensile strength and friction between them and the
mass of rock pressing them against the outer layer of mesh.
The vertical tension inserts will greatly compensate for any
of the outer layer of mesh at the horizontal seam between its two
panels, and will oppose bending moments due to lack of straightness in
the column, or due to horizontal acceleration of the column. The
vertical tension inserts might be elaborated to
resist overturning moments in earthquake country, by anchoring their
lower ends to the ground.