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The cooling effect

Preethi Sukumaran
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A fresh coat of paint or even a terrace garden can lessen the heat in summer, says Preethi Sukumaran

A wall of Creeperscan cool down your home considrably by providing a physical block.Photo: H. Vibhu
A wall of Creeperscan cool down your home considrably by providing a physical block.Photo: H. Vibhu

The mango flowers in bloom, the Neem tree in her resplendent glory, and the chirping of the many birds outside my window tell me that summer is here. It brings back fond childhood memories of eating mangoes, school holidays, and visits to grandparents. However, in today’s urban dweller’s life, summer in a city seems barely tolerable. An air-conditioner seems like a necessity given the heat generated by our modern homes, and the summer has now become a season to be tolerated and not enjoyed.

Readers would have seen many mentions in my columns to materials and herbs that are considered cooling and soothing for the body. This series will explore them and many more indigenous and new age methods that can help summer-proof your home.

Habitat carries many columns on designs inspired by indigenous and vernacular architecture practices across the country. Depending on the region where the style and building materials and methods evolved, vernacular architecture presents solutions to combat the extremes of temperature and humidity that is a feature across many parts of India.

Most of us no longer live in traditional homes with high ceilings, thick walls and many windows that help keep our home cool. But, we can still take advantage of the principles followed by traditional architecture systems and many small changes this summer to make our homes cooler without having to switch on the air conditioner.

Solar radiation affects different parts of your home differently. In summer, nearly 50 per cent of the radiation is on the roof, with the balance being distributed almost equally between the east and west walls. If your home is on the top-most floor, solar radiation is high and will keep your home uncomfortably warm. This can be solved by either improving the reflectivity of your roof’s surface or providing shading through several low cost methods.

To improve the reflectivity of the surface and to reduce the temperature of the roof, a simple coat of white wash or white paint can be done on your roof or terrace. We have measured an actual temperature drop of up to 3 degree centigrade when this simple measure has been used. This drop depends on the reflectivity of the roof, so this needs to be done every year to maintain the cooling effect. If painting is not an option, you can also opt for low-cost external shading devices.

A simple grill system which supports creepers and plants or a terrace garden is a great way to reduce heat and grow your own fruits and vegetables. As long as the flooring is reasonably waterproof to prevent seepage, creepers on your roof can cool down your home not just by providing a physical block but also by the process of evaporation from the leaves.

If your terrace is not frequently used, you can also consider covering its surface with inverted earthen pots. Apart from acting as an external shading device, this methods helps reduce heat by providing a large number of isolative air blocks from each pot, and also increases the surface area for radiation emission. But remember to clean out the pots periodically and ensure there is no stagnant water or debris or it will become a breeding place for mosquitoes.

In my next column, we will examine ways to control solar radiation from the east and west walls and how furnishings can be used to reduce heat.

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