Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics

November 18, 2008

Shaping Buildings for the Humid Tropics: Cultures, Climate, and Materials by Patti Stouter, 2008, is a 28 page PDF document that describes how to use ventilation, shading, plantings and insulation to provide comfort in hot humid climates.

This is one of the best sources of information about building and living in these challenging regions that I have seen. Patti points out that simple, low-cost buildings can be cool, dry, and mold-free if they are carefully planned. She also discusses the cultural differences that might affect appropriate designs.

She shows how to catch breezes to make the inhabitants feel cooler and to keep the humidity from building up. How to best orient a house to avoid overheating and ways to use landscapping to enhance

comfort in buildings is outlined.

“One of the most important goals is to build of ‘lightweight and low heat-storing materials’ so there won’t be much heat radiated towards the inside. Traditional building materials like wood, grass, palm, and bamboo are cheaper as well as cooler than masonry. But because they rot easily or are eaten by insects, they must be used carefully. Natural materials can be used inside to provide sound or heat insulation. Sea grass, rice hulls, and coconut fibers don’t absorb much humidity.”

“Earth buildings last well when maintained, and are less subject to overheating and dampness than stone or concrete. Earth walls don’t get hot or cool very quickly because earth insulates better than concrete. Heavy concrete walls in very humid areas become frequently damp from condensation, causing algae or mold growth. Solid earth walls will receive less condensation than concrete because they are less dense, and because they absorb more humidity.”

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