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Passive Cooling Techniques: Stay Chill Without Air-Conditioning

Solar panels can be used to transform heat into cooling power. Solar panels can be used to transform heat into cooling power.

 

Look up in the sky at that big yellow ball we call our sun. It’s the same 10,000-degree star that had our earliest ancestors seeking shelter from its hot summer rays. Cro-Magnon men dug caves, ancient Egyptians put porous cold water pots where there were warm breezes, and Iraqis in the 8th century packed snow between double walls to keep themselves cool. In the 1800s, riders in horse carriages stayed comfortable thanks to an ice compartment and fan contraption underneath the buggy. Just 100 years later, the air conditioner buzzed onto the scene.

Fast-forward another century to today, and those unsightly boxes keep almost every dwelling cool. But comfort comes with a hefty price tag. As a nation, we pay more than $250 billion in energy costs each year—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Passive cooling systems are low-cost alternatives to the electricity-sucking, carbon-emitting, wallet-emptying beast that is your A/C. And many are based on technology discovered by our ancestors many summers ago.

VENTILATION

It might seem like a no-brainer, but ventilating your home at night, especially in Southwest and desert climates, is important for cooling your home and preparing it for the daytime heat. Opening windows to create a cross breeze forces out hot daytime air and allows in a chilled nighttime breeze. It works best if you have windows that open outward all the way, rather than older models that crank to open at an angle or simply slide up.

RADIANT BARRIERS

Made of a material that looks like aluminum foil, radiant barriers can be used to reduce heat gain on the roof, walls, and especially in attics, where heat gets trapped and can reach a dangerous 150 degrees. The attic is nearly always a culprit in stuffy summer temps. Think of it like a bulky wool winter hat atop your home. You can’t take it off, obviously, but you can make sure it sits on a nicely groomed noggin, so to speak.

Expert tip: You must have a 3/4-inch air gap that can convect excess heat away.

SHADING

Many mid-century modern houses feature awnings over windows for aesthetic effect, but they also save costs on cooling. When you consider the position of the sun at its hottest point in the day, the awning should be constructed over the front of the home or west-facing windows to achieve the desired effect.

Another option is “living walls,” which can be something as simple as climbing vines on the west side of the house or a particular structure built to house shading plants.

EARTH TUBES

Temperatures deep in the ground are more constant, and earth tubes take advantage of this. In the summer, underground air is obviously cooler than the air above ground. With earth tubes, outside air is run through the tubes to cool it before it is introduced into the house. It also works in the reverse to heat a house in the winter. Always consult the proper city authority and local gas company before digging.

COOLING TOWERS & SOLAR CHIMNEYS

Cooling towers use wind and water evaporation and are often associated with nuclear power plants, though they also can be small and used on rooftops of homes. Similarly, a solar chimney is a rooftop structure that uses convection of air heated by passive solar energy.

REFLECTIVE OR LIVING ROOFS

Anyone who’s traveled across the country has seen the sun’s effect on how homes are constructed. In warmer places like Miami, roofs are white, beige or terracotta, while they’re black in colder climates like Chicago and Minneapolis. In places like the Florida Keys, where it takes far more than a colada to cool off, white Galvalume material is a low-cost option and offers excellent weather resistance. Plus, it looks futuristic and rich.

Plants provide evaporative cooling in addition to insulation, and they knew this early on in Europe, where green roofs featuring no-maintenance vegetation have been a practical option for many years. Stateside in the 1970s, “earth houses” built into hillsides sprouted up but, more than anything, became fodder for hippie jokes. It’s possible passive earth shelters could sprout up again in the U.S. as costs rise. But as long as we remain a society preoccupied with luxury, it could take a while.

Quick Cool: 5 CoolingTips You Can Use Today

• Always shade west-facing windows.
• Open your windows at night.
• Properly seal all ductwork.
• Keep the laundry room door closed.
• Run appliances at night or early morning.

© Copyright RosebudMag.com, 2013



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Last modified on Friday, 09 August 2013 00:18

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