LIVING WITH SUMMER
Switching on the air conditioner is not the right solution as it only creates heat islands.
This summer season has been a much talked about one, at least for one reason. Which ever city one lives in or travels to, everyone gets to hear people discussing the rising temperatures. Architects and builders, especially those who claim to design eco-friendly houses, get frequent complaints from some or other house owners about how unbearable the indoor temperature has been. Most of us being impulsive in nature, start looking for an immediate answer as well.
From an ecological perspective, the rising summer temperatures and increasing financial affordability is prompting thousands of families in the tropical regions to buy air conditioners. A study published in National Academy of Sciences has placed air conditioners among the products poised for exponential growth in the coming years – a product already infamous for releasing Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) which indirectly accelerates climate change. Besides, they transfer the indoor heat to outside, leading to heat island effects in business districts with large number of air conditioned buildings. In majority of cites in south India, the window ACs are used just for a few weeks in a year, questioning the idea of investment and benefit, even if it is at the individual levels.
It is a fact that no house can be built to perfectly suit all our local seasons of summer, winter and monsoon rains. If a house in coastal Kerala has to be designed to allow cross ventilation even during the rains, the same model may not be needed in Hyderabad or if built so, will end up filling the house with hot air during the summers, making it unlivable. Any study of traditional local architecture reveals that they were in general good for all seasons, but would perform badly in case of extreme conditions. While a non-stop flash shower with wind would make Bangalore buildings suffer, sudden spell of dry weather in an otherwise hot humid Chennai would create discomfort to the locals.
Unfortunately, by specifying 22 degree Celsius temperature, 50% humidity and hourly two cycles of air change, the habit-forming air conditioning creates a yearning in us for AC every time, diluting our inborn capacity to let the body get adjusted. All our ancestors lived all through the seasons, by appropriate food, clothing, indoor activities and bearing with the lead time required to get adjusted. Today, in the name of comfort, we are letting our lives get conditioned.
So, the challenge is two fold – firstly, to design the building most suited to all seasons, if not best suited to one season, and secondly, in the case of occasional extreme weather conditions in one season, let our human bodies get adjusted to the changing nature of heat and humidity.
Towards the first challenge, insulation and ventilation are among the major criteria, being the technical aspects of passive cooling, which can be further explored. However, for the second challenge of getting adjusted, it is only our wish and will power that can make a difference.