Natural Cooling Strategies

Who needs air conditioning? These design strategies can help you keep your home cool without it.

| August/September 2011

  • House With Porch
    Two elements of natural cooling are shady porches and deep window overhangs that block the sun in summer.
    PHOTO: BARBARA BOURNE
  • Porch With Vines
    Deciduous vines and trees provide shade in summer and let in the sun’s heat during winter.
    SUPERSTOCK
  • Open Window
    Older homes often include lots of large windows designed to let in cooling breezes during summer.
    ISTOCKPHOTO
  • Natural Cooling Diagram
    This modern house design incorporates many elements that would help the house stay cool naturally.
    KIPNIS ARCHITECTURE + PLANNING
  • Roof Overhang
    This home design incorporates many elements of passive solar design. Notice the window overhangs that block the sun, the patio doors that open wide to let in the breeze, and the abundant vegetation outside.
    CATHERINE WANEK

  • House With Porch
  • Porch With Vines
  • Open Window
  • Natural Cooling Diagram
  • Roof Overhang

Most people have limited tolerance for hot weather. As the thermostat rises, we quickly become uncomfortable, and if it becomes too hot inside our homes, it’s even dangerous. Our modern response to this problem is simple: “Turn up the air!” However, air conditioning consumes a lot of electricity, and most of it comes from polluting fossil fuels. Electricity is also a limited resource: On the hottest days of the year, some cities don’t have enough electricity to meet demand, leading to brownouts or rolling blackouts.

Fortunately, many old-fashioned design strategies can keep a house cool naturally, which conserves energy and saves money. Although home builders largely have stopped using these techniques over the past 100 years, there’s no reason we can’t rediscover them and use them in our homes. This article explains how to use a few basic natural cooling strategies, whether you’re building a new house or making improvements to an existing home.

Natural Ventilation

Before society embraced air conditioning, we all found simple ways to beat the heat. One was to sit on a shaded porch, sipping a cold drink. If the porch was positioned correctly, gentle breezes would blow past. Breezes help moisture evaporate from your skin — one of the body’s main methods for cooling off. In fact, many natural cooling techniques boil down to one basic principle: Keep the air moving. So how do you improve airflow within your home?

Ideally, when you’re building, you choose the site and orient your house to take advantage of naturally occurring wind patterns. You can also direct summer breezes into and through the house by carefully choosing the types and locations of windows and doors to funnel air through a building.



Many historic architectural styles, especially those used in hot climates, relied on tall windows on opposite sides of a room for cross ventilation. If you’re building a home or planning an addition, you can try this technique yourself. If you cannot place windows on opposite walls, try to place windows on adjacent walls, which still produces some airflow.

Another way to encourage natural ventilation is through a design technique called the stack effect. The general idea is to allow the warmer air in a home to rise up and out of the living space. To create the stack effect, you have to provide an opening toward the top of the space in conjunction with an opening toward the bottom, so that the hot indoor air will be naturally drawn up and out. The greater the height of the space and difference in temperature, the greater the natural draw. This essentially provides a naturally ventilating, unpowered fan system. You can take advantage of this effect by building a home with a ventilation tower. An option for retrofitting a home might include installing an operable skylight.

Martha-Lynn
7/26/2019 9:35:13 AM

When I was in elementary school, we moved from NJ to south FL with NO AIR CONDITIONING (We didn't need it up there; who knew we'd need it Florida?)! I learned (the hard way) that you don't live in south FL without a/c!


Andrea
7/26/2019 7:33:44 AM

How about Geo thermal use of heating and cooling? there is ( to my mind) a way to use the deep earth's cooling abilities by laying pipe well below 4/5 feet into the ground that circle the house a few times with an "air intake somewehere in the shade outdoors where ( after a few circle's inside the cool earth ) makes it's way into the home , properly screened to keep critters out of course). then with the length of piping ,with is also a natural up-draw/ flue type air movement, cools the home with earth's cooling ( constant temp). ? Geo thermal is not just for heating ( though it also may help in winter heating , the same home with it's constant air temp 4 to 5 feet down.? worthy of more thought Maybe?


jay.lloyd.319
5/28/2013 1:19:23 PM

I agree with Baloobearmak, there is no way these designs can make life livable without an AC in the deep south, like where I live in Mississippi. It's just too hot for passive cooling to be the main cooling method. That being said, shade trees over windows, wind corridors, and these other methods are present in all the older house designs here, and I am glad to see some of these methods are making a resurgence to lower energy costs.







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