After turning off my air conditioning after some cool weather, I find that today was quite warm. I did not want to turn my AC back on, so I opened windows to allow the cool breezes through the home. This would have been great if my home was designed with the idea of using this passive means of cooling, but I had to make due.
Houston, it is said, would not exist without its air conditioning. We are the most heavily air conditioned city in the world, but people did live here before the advent of this mechanical means to cool themselves, so how did they do it. (Granted the first settlement here was called Germantown, and we Germans may just be a bit nuts thinking we could live here). The traditional home in Texas was the dog trot (drawing below). The rectangle in the drawing represents the roof line, which provided shade for the two rooms below. Each room had a window directly opposite. The area between the rooms was a porch. The house was situated so that the prevailing breezes blew through the porch and windows. Coupled with the shade of the roof made for a cool spot to sit and work. One room was the kitchen/work room while the other was the bedroom. The attic may have contained beds, but it was also frequently used for attics. The air flow through the home was good. Another feature of later homes was to increase the height of a room. Since heat rises, many ceilings in older homes were much higher than our current homes allowing the summer heat to rise above the living area.
Modern home design was freed from this reliance on placing the home on sight to allow air to flow smoothly through it by air conditioning. In the drawing below, you see a section of my home. The house is not situated to catch the breezes, and the window placement does not prove conducive to allowing air to flow through all of the rooms. I do open my windows, but an entirely passive arrangement is not possible. Let me explain the term passive here: if I do not need mechanical means (like a ceiling fan or air conditioner to cool my home), then I can cool it without any energy; that is what I mean by passive. My solution would be to create window spaces to catch the breezes, but to be honest this is not possible in my home’s design. I do open the windows, but then I rely on ceiling fans set on low to help move the air about.
Consider your home. Can you add windows to catch the breezes? If not, ceiling fans coupled with open windows can be an alternative for most modern home designs. This is the most practical solution when considering the design of most homes from the fifties to the present. I will do one more post on this topic, where I will indulge in a bit of fantasy about how we could possibly improve upon on our home’s design, for little cost.