How to Calculate Thermal Expansion

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In engineering and material science, "thermal expansion" refers to the phenomenon wherein certain solids expand as their internal temperature increases. While each material has a specific expansion factor, different formulas are used to calculate total expansion from one-dimensional (i.e., length), two-dimensional (i.e., area) or three-dimensional (i.e., volume) perspectives.

Calculating the Change in Length

• Determine the material's coefficient of thermal expansion. For an extensive list of materials and their coefficients, see the link in the Resources section.

• Multiply the coefficient of thermal expansion by the net temperature increase for the material. For example, if the temperature of the material during construction is 20 degrees Celsius, and the maximum temperature during operation is 33 degrees Celsius, the net increase would be 13 degrees.

• Multiply the result from Step 2 by the length of the material during construction (i.e., while the material is at its base temperature). The result will be the maximum amount by which the length of the material will increase when heated to this particular temperature.

Calculating the Change in Area

• Determine the material's coefficient of thermal expansion. For an extensive list of materials and their coefficients, see the Resource section.

• Multiply the coefficient of thermal expansion by the net temperature increase for the material. For example, if the temperature of the material during construction is 20 degrees Celsius and the maximum temperature during operation is 52 degrees Celsius, the net increase would be 32 degrees.

• Multiply this result by 2.

• Multiply the product from Section 2, Step 3 by the material's base-temperature area. This new value represents the amount by which the material's area will increase due to thermal expansion.

Calculating the Change in Volume

• Determine the material's coefficient of thermal expansion. For an extensive list of materials and their coefficients, see the Resource section.

• Multiply the coefficient of thermal expansion by the net temperature increase for the material. For example, if the temperature of the material during construction is 20 degrees Celsius and the maximum temperature during operation is 27 degrees Celsius, the net increase would be 7 degrees.

• Multiply this result by 3.

• Multiply the result from Section 3, Step 3 by the volume of the material at its base temperature. This value represents the amount by which the material's volume will increase due to thermal expansion.

Tips & Warnings

• If you plan on using Fahrenheit or U.S. units to measure temperature change, make sure that the coefficient value you choose is expressed in degrees Fahrenheit. If you are using metric measurements, make sure that the coefficient value is expressed in degrees Celsius.

References

• Photo Credit rusty metal pipe 2 image by jbattx from Fotolia.com
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