7 Ways Tropical Design Can Cool Down Your Home
An architect shares the secrets to creating a home that's cool and airy all year round
We often look to foreign cultures for inspiration when building a home. But while “modern-Scandi” or classical Italian may look good in photos, tropical design is still the best—and most effective—style for Filipino homes.
A properly planned tropical home will ensure cool and breezy spaces 365 days in a year, and a roof and structure that can withstand our typhoons and heavy rains. Architect Joel Muñoz, who specializes in the design of modern tropical homes, shares with us the basic features of a naturally cool home:
Use the bahay kubo as inspiration
Joel mentions that the based on history, culture, and tradition, the bahay kubo is the ideal house for our tropical climes. “It's certainly impractical to build a bahay kubo in the metro, for fire safety and durability issues. But a modern tropical house may take some of the practical design of a traditional bahay kubo,” the architect says. “Materials may also be substituded with more modern and durable ones available today.”
Design with passive cooling in mind
“Passive cooling or convection cooling as the means to cool the house without the use of air-conditioning is the most common cooling method for tropical houses,” Joel says. This building design approach uses large openings for cross-ventilation, a high ceiling to make the hot air rise, circulate, and cool down, and roof eaves to shade the home from the sun.
Provide wide windows and doors that open fully
“Where possible, provide wide openings—preferably on opposite walls to promote cross ventilation…these openings for cool air to come in are best located where it does not face the sun, or with tree shades or a body of water just outside the opening. Evaporating water helps cool the air.”
Opt for natural materials
“Roofing material with good insulating qualities like clay roof tiles is ideal. Aesthetically, natural stone, wood and materials that are locally present would be more tropical looking than polished artificial materials,” shares Joel.
Orient the house properly
Positioning a house so that it is facing the north and south direction is the ideal since the living spaces are not directly hit by the sun or would least be hit by sunlight throughout the day.
“[The] idea is exposing the least surface area to the sun. This means that if the structure were rectangular, the smaller sides should face the east/west. It is also better to face your windows towards the north where the sun does not shine from, or east so you get the morning sun—which is not as strong as the afternoon sun.”
Choose a steep roof
Joel explains that the traditional bahay kubo has a house-to-roof ratio that is one-is-to-three, meaning that the height of the walls is one-third the height of the roof, which locates the residents very far from the hottest part of the house, which is near the ceiling. What’s the ideal angle? “The steeper the better,” says Joel. “But steep up to a practical point. Thirty to forty-five degrees would be good.”
Go for tropical landscaping
“It's always good to use plants that can be found in the immediate locale to give an ‘of this place’ feel,” enthuses Joel. “If using imported plants, it should be at least be from the tropics.” Where you locate your plants can also help cool down your home, especially if the trees or shrubs provide shade. Examples of tropical plants include ornamental bamboo, ficus, rhapis, philodendrons, Alocasia, and palm trees.
Part of this article originally appeared in “25 Tips For The Tropical Home” in the April 2009 issue of Real Living magazine. You can contact architect Joel Muñoz at joel[at]munozarchitecture.com
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