Hooray for low tech

The Dave from Albury compound was built some time in the early 1950’s as well as we can tell. It does not have large glass windows, a trendy roofline, modern building materials or a design that maximises the floor space available on the block. Today, more than usual, I say thank goodness for that.

Some time on Sunday night the fan in our evaporative air conditioner got out of balance and started making all manner of inappropriate noises. Yesterday, the fan completely dislodged from the motor, so for over 24 hours now we’ve had no cooling apart from a 1970’s vintage wall mounted air con in the lounge room, which is good for freezing one cubic metre in front of its vent, but little more. Despite all this the compound remains quite habitable today, a credit to the builders and designers of sixty years ago who made the effort to ensure that the building itself took care of a great deal of the heating and cooling required. We’ve also been lucky that the last two days have had maximum temperatures around 37 degrees, rather than the low 40s of last week.

I wonder how well some of the houses built in the last decade would stand up? Low ceilings, no eaves, swathes of glass and more often than not a concrete slab, excluding air flow below the floor, don’t sound like a recipe for passive cooling to me. Blackouts seem to be a regular summer event these days and there’s no sign of change on the horizon, if anything the converging problems bought on by climate change and energy production deficiencies seem likely to get worse rather than better. So how sustainable are the houses that are being built today?

In NSW the BASIX – Building Sustainability Index sets out a number of requirements in terms of energy efficiency, and yet houses that are being built still seem to be unliveable without the benefit of a massive air conditioner and heater.

I think that a good option would be to mandate that new houses be able to produce enough electricity through renewable sources to at least power their cooling sources, which pretty much means a PV solar panel on every roof top. Imagine the benefits, if you want a monstrous air conditioner go right ahead, but you’ll need a monstrous array to power it. Of course, whenever the air conditioner isn’t running flat out you get the benefit of reducing your electricity bill as the solar panel continues to chug out power that can keep the rest of the house ticking along.

In the mean time, as I sit in my 1950s house without anything more than random breezes to cool me, I think I’ll indulge in another traditional cooling method. Gin and tonic anyone?

2 thoughts on “Hooray for low tech

  1. “Low ceilings, no eaves, swathes of glass and more often than not a concrete slab, excluding air flow below the floor, don’t sound like a recipe for passive cooling to me.”

    Funnily enough they can be a recipe for passive cooling/passive heating.

    In winter, high ceilings create the area where the warm air goes and swathes of glass allows the sun through to heat up the concrete slab for thermal mass effect.
    I am a fan of eaves, but lets face it you don’t need an eave on the south or the east or the west for that matter. Only in the north in summer, otherwise an eave in winter cuts out the sun heating up the house. At the end of the day – its about good design for the climate that we live in. And here we need good insulation.

    I am sick of people banging on about the sustainability of new houses when the more effective measure in cutting greehouse gases is to concentrate on retrofitting older houses that people currently live in. So Ruddy’s stimulus package for rebates for solar and insulation is a good move. I wonder if the insulation applies to fitting double glazed windows?

    Really they should ban airconditioners in houses especially here where there is a viable alternative with evap coolers. Don’t think people would have enough roof space to hold the PV panels to run an AC when its 43Degrees. Also don’t PVs run less effectively on really hot days?

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