Making Our Homes Greener
Florida Licensed Architect
Call 305-552-5465, If you have a question or would like to discuss your project. There is no charge for the initial consultation, if you own the Miami-Dade County property and would like to discuss the project you envision in detail.
MAKING OUR HOMES GREENER
What can we do as a society to improve our physical environment and make our homes greener?
Those who are recent inhabitants of the city of Miami don’t know what it was like to live here or in the Caribbean in the 1950’s or 60’s. My family used to come and vacation here in the 60’s. We had come from Cuba in 1961 and moved up north, but we came here once or twice a year on vacation. In the 50’s or in the early 60’s no one had central air-conditioning. The most people would have in their houses were window or wall A/C units. And many houses did not have air-conditioning at all.
So how were houses designed then? Well, most houses were designed for good cross ventilation. Ceilings were high and often had ceiling fans. Although most houses had no insulation, between the high ceiling and cross ventilation the summer heat was bearable. In places like Cuba where there were always crosswinds from the ocean, the summers were even more pleasant.
I remember when I lived at the sorority house at Georgia Tech in Atlanta while going to architecture school, there was no air-conditioning in the house. We made due with a whole house extractor fan on the second floor, and honestly, most of the time, this took out most of the heat in the house, making the sorority house quite livable, even during Atlanta’s muggy summer days.
Another detail that good architects took in consideration was the orientation of the house and protection of the walls and windows. In our Southeast region of the US, the sun is almost never in the north except during some days in the winter. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west and goes a little to the south as it goes across the sky from east to west from sunrise to sunset. This means that the east, west and south exposures of a house need overhangs. Windows on the west need to be avoided as western sun is the hottest of the day. In addition, it casts deep shadows making being next to these windows very uncomfortable. Windows on the eastern exposure are most welcomed as the sun at this time of the day in the early morning is very pleasant.
How are most houses designed now? They ignore all of this. Air-conditioning is the biggest user of electricity in any home. The next biggest user is the water heater. If we are to make a real dent into what the typical homeowner uses in electricity, then some things have to change in home design. In essence we have to go back to the future.
Back to the Future
There are some simple things we have to change to better the energy consumption of a typical residence:
Plan the house as though it is not going to run the A/C all the time 24/7. This means making sure the house is oriented correctly with good cross ventilation. Consider designing a house around a courtyard. Plan on high ceiling and large windows. Plan on ceiling fans in each living space of the house. Then, don’t run the A/C 24/7. Open the windows and enjoy the South Florida natural winter environment.Heavily insulate the attic space (R-30). Heat comes into a house mostly through the roof. Only about 3% comes through the walls. Therefore, modest insulation in the walls is good enough (R-4).
If the house is going to have a water heater with a tank, make sure that the water heater is installed with a timer so that it does not run all day.
Make sure the house has overhangs where needed. Sometimes shading devices, such as louvers and screens can be added as well.
Consider putting several trees close to the house to provide shading. This is a very effective way of lessening the exposure of the roof to the sun. This, by itself, will reduce the temperature around and in the house by several degrees.
Lastly, consider putting covered terraces, trellises, pergolas, and/or porches around the house to use in the South Florida winter. So while everyone else is freezing in the north, you can tell yourself how brilliant you are for having chosen Miami as your home!
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