Passive Cooling in Alamikamba

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My strategy here with Hotel Papatara has included the following:

1) Use of painted wood construction throughout

Wood does not ¨sink¨ solar energy like concrete or adobe structures. Light colored paints reflect solar rays instead of converting radiant energy to absorbed heat. Wood is cheap and readily available here. Properly cured, wood breathes and doesn´t lead to mildew conditions as will concrete in our lowland atlantic coast environment. Adobe isn´t a viable choice here either!

Floors are also wooden construction over wooden piers and wooden beams. Piers and beams must be of wood species which are very resistance to termites, moisture, and decay. Piers should raise beams and floors high enough to insure good airflow and allow for periodic inspection. Bushes and other vegetation should not be situated to block airflow under construction. Wooden floors are healthier for people because they cushion feet and legs and are not prone to moisture transmission common to concrete floors here.

Few buildings here have moisture barriers under concrete. As a result, moisture frequently destroys anything (including fabric, paper, wood, metal) in contact with concrete floors!

2) Use of 5-6´ insulated awnings around entire construction

Two foot roof overhang plus wide awnings keeps sunlight from falling directly on walls during hot hours of the day. Therefore, inside rooms are slow to heat up and walls do not retain heat to release at night.

Wide awnings keep solar energy from directly entering windows or falling on porch areas and walkways except in very early and very late hours of sunlight. Awnings have 3/4¨ balsa wood insulation throughout so that convection heat is not tranferred to underside. Therefore, light daytime breezes are not heated as they pass under the awnings. Balsa wood absorbs sound reducing noise during heavy rains on the tin awnings. Underside of awning is painted deep green color to reduce reflectance and coordinate well when viewing outside vegetation.

Rain will not enter open windows except under the severest blown rain conditions due to awning position.

Roof overhangs, awnings, and especially good paint help protect the building from rapid degradation.

3) Use of high interior ceilings and convection flow in ceiling space.

Use of 10´ interior ceilings made with 1.5¨ thick balsa wood. High ceiling assures that hot air buildup does not reach occupants. Each room has ceiling level screened vents to allow hot air to dissipate from contained spaces before it reaches lower (head-height) levels. Airspace above ceiling is vented at eaves and top of gables to facilitate convection flow.

Balsa wood ceilings absorb sounds making the room much quieter and more comfortable. Carpeting here is impractical for this purpose because of muddy conditions outside where guests often track mud and water inside the building. Carpets here would remain damp and mildew quickly under prolonged rainy conditions which are prevalent here.

4) Building orientation to enhance airflow

Our dining area is open air and situated to catch prevailing winds and funnel them from one side of the building to the other. This technique assures air movement even on the lightest air days making for a much more comfortable environment. Most people in-the-know consider our dining area the coolest spot in Alamikamba!

Since until recently, we did not have either electricity nor running water, I have depended exclusively on passive techniques to provide comfortable living spaces! We still don´t even have any electric fans in the hotel! And, nobody has complained.


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  1. Barney's Avatar

    Thanks for sharing.

    Barrie Coffman
Also visit the False Bluff Blog!