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SHOULD BRITISH DEVELOPERS BE LOOKING TO THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE FOR BUILDING DESIGN INSPIRATION?

17 Jul 2023

Climate scientists expressed shock at the UK’s smashed temperature record, with the heat soaring above 40 degrees Celsius for the first time ever last year. As summers become hotter, it is increasingly crucial to prioritise comfortable and energy-efficient housing. Effective house design adaptations can help mitigate the risk of heat-related illnesses and ensure the safety and well-being of occupants during peak temperatures. With summers getting hotter and health and safety risks increasing, should the British built environment sector be looking across the equator to the Southern hemisphere for architectural design inspiration?

If our climate is changing, our house designs shouldn’t remain the same. By adapting customary British house designs we can help mitigate heat gain, improve occupant comfort, improve energy efficiency and help occupants to save on energy bills. This begs the question, what design features could British developers be borrowing from developers who are skilled in designing homes for hotter climates?

Thermal mass of building materials

Look abroad to warmer countries and it’s typical to see homes that utilise features such as exposed concrete soffits and tiled floors. Likewise, their homes built from materials with high thermal mass, such as concrete, stone and clay. These materials are used to absorb and store heat during the day and release it slowly at night when temperatures are cooler. This helps maintain a more stable indoor temperature.

Newer British homes, particularly those constructed with lightweight materials and modern construction methods tend to have lower thermal mass. British housebuilders should employ high thermal mass materials, such as concrete, stone, or clay, as they can absorb and store heat during periods of high temperature, helping to regulate indoor temperatures. They act as a thermal buffer, absorbing excess heat during the day and releasing it slowly at night or during cooler periods. This helps to stabilise temperature fluctuations and reduce the need for active cooling systems in hot weather.

External shading

External shading devices such as awnings, pergolas and lattices are commonly used to block direct sunlight while still allowing air circulation in the southern hemisphere. These devices can be placed over windows, doors, and outdoor living spaces to reduce heat gain and create shaded areas. These are an excellent option as they create a significant impact on indoor temperatures without changing the look of the home drastically.

Home orientation and layout

In the southern hemisphere, houses are typically designed to maximise shade and minimise direct exposure to the sun's intense rays. The orientation of the house is crucial, with the main living areas facing away from the sun's path during the hottest times of the day. Additionally, the layout of the house often includes courtyards or central open spaces to facilitate natural ventilation.

Ventilation

Natural ventilation is crucial for cooling homes in hot climates, and it is something the UK should also consider in its house design. In hotter climates, developers typically incorporate features such as large windows, operable vents, and high ceilings to promote airflow. This allows hot air to escape and cool air to enter, creating a cooler indoor environment.

Moreover, windows are strategically positioned to allow for cross ventilation and natural cooling. Placing windows on opposite walls creates a breeze pathway, facilitating air movement. Additionally, windows may be designed with features like operable louvres or shutters to control the amount of sunlight and heat entering the house.

Energy efficient cooling systems

While passive cooling techniques should be taken as first steps, we should acknowledge that energy efficient cooling systems may be needed to provide additional comfort when temperatures peak. However, taking energy efficiency and sustainability into consideration, we should strive to use systems that consume less energy compared to traditional air conditioners.

Landscaping

Landscaping is an underrated aspect of house design relative to keeping homes cool in the UK. Carefully planned landscaping can significantly contribute to minimising temperatures. Planting trees, especially on the west and east sides, provides natural shade and helps reduce solar heat gain. Additionally, water features like fountains or pools can also contribute to evaporative cooling. Landscaping considerations may prove especially beneficial to urban developers in combatting the urban heat island effect.

Climate-resilient homes are necessary now

With homes becoming increasingly uninhabitable during the summer months, it is essential British developers take building design inspiration from the Southern hemisphere. Incorporating features such as external shading devices, proper home orientation and layout, effective ventilation and building materials with a higher thermal mass can significantly improve the cooling performance of homes in the UK. By embracing design strategies and technologies from countries with experience in hot climates, British developers can create homes that are better equipped to handle hotter summers, reduce energy consumption, enhance occupant comfort and contribute to a more sustainable built environment.

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