From Ancient Air Conditioners to Contemporary Passive Homes

We might tend to think of passive home design and environmentally-friendly cooling methods as qualities of modern “green” construction. But natural cooling techniques have been used for as long as humans have been building homes; after all, the modern air conditioner is a relatively recent invention. These homes were all built to take advantage of simple, natural cooling methods – no air conditioner required.

(image via: Wikipedia)

Ancient desert-dwellers knew better than anyone that the best way to keep a home cool was to keep it from getting hot in the first place. This is why many hot-climate homes were built close together and finished with light-colored exteriors: both of these methods helped keep the heat out. But even more amazing is the windcatcher, a passive cooling device that has been used in Asia and the Middle East for many centuries.

(image via: Wikipedia)

The windcatcher is essentially a tower that “catches” the prevailing wind in its open side, then directs it down into the building to keep the air flowing and thus keeping the home cool. This Persian invention can be seen in many locations around the Middle East and surrounding areas, where daytime temperatures are typically very hot.

(image via: Wikipedia)

Windcatchers are sometimes used in conjunction with underground water canals to cool buildings. Hot air is drawn into the underground canal, where the water is kept cool because it is so far beneath the surface. The air is cooled by passing over the water, then it is directed up into the building. A similar method used in windless environments is the solar chimney, which forces hot air out through the top of the windcatcher and traps the cooler night-time air inside, keeping the home at a comfortable temperature.

(image via: James Ray Polk)

The same type of natural air conditioning can be seen in Western architecture as well. Transoms, or tiny windows above doorways, were used to keep interiors cool and ventilated before air conditioning became commonplace. Trees and shrubs are used for shade to keep the sun from creating too much heat inside homes, and exterior porches are used to keep windows protected from the harshest of the summer rays.

(image via: Inhabitat)

These passive cooling methods and others are used in the most innovative and forward-thinking eco-friendly home designs of today, but they are all based on design elements that were developed long ago. Contemporary passive home designs are using these ancient passive methods in thoroughly modern homes to keep residents cool in the most classical, Earth-friendly way.


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