Want to keep cool and comfortable when summer starts to sizzle? Understanding how passive cooling works and how it can go hand in hand with smart home technology is the place to start.
Did you know the coldest place on earth is the Eastern Antarctic Plateau, which is a very chilly -94°C? When blistering heat strikes in the middle of an Australian summer, you might just wish you could instantly transport yourself there if you don’t have adequate cooling measures at home. But there’s no need to take extreme measures to beat the heat. Cooling your home is about managing airflow through windows and doors, adding shade, and other measures such as fans and air conditioners to increase comfort.
Passive cooling principles
Making the most of passive cooling is all about designing a home to respond to the local climate and the site on which the home will be built. It covers things like aspect (the direction and position of the home on the block), external shading factors, and window type and placement.
Architect Mick Moloney from Moloney Architects says the concept of passive cooling means designing a building in such a way that it can be opened up to allow any available air movement to flow through and around the home. It’s one of the critical first steps in home design. “We spend a lot of time on site to assess and understand in what direction those cooling winds are coming from,” says Mick.
There are a number of strategies to incorporate when designing a new home to achieve that. Mick explains that good ventilation can be achieved with operable windows on both sides of the building so you get a good cross flow. “Casement windows that open up like a door — depending on which side you hinge them — can capture breezes from a different direction,” he says.
But the shape of the house also comes into play. “Homes that are designed narrow in plan, that are more pavilion-like, generally have better cross-flow ventilation access,” he explains. “Ideally, a long hallway with windows to one side and a run of bedrooms on the other will allow a very clear crossflow ventilation path.” Ventilation panels above doors can also work well. You might have a hallway with rotating panels on top of the doors. “You’ll often see this in older buildings,” Mick says.
Another way to passively cool your home, explains Mick, is adding a water feature in the garden. “If you have a small pond in the landscape, wind passes over the top of the water and there will be a decrease in temperature due to the evaporative effect,” he says.
Large windows and plenty of glass is visually appealing. However, too much glazing is one way a home can get overheated. According to Mick, it’s a balancing act. “As architects we like floor-to-ceiling glass — we want to get that passive solar orientation right, that free sunlight energy into the building,” he says. “But at the same time, we don’t want our buildings to overheat.”
Hey, smarty pants
Having a smart climate control solution in your home is not only good for your hip pocket, it’s also good for the planet. Smart air conditioning is a revolutionary innovation in home climate control. Adam Connell, marketing manager from Polyaire, says not only are the controls and touch screens easy on the eye, smart air conditioning lets you control the home climate from your phone from absolutely anywhere. “You can be on the couch or out and about,” he says.
Have you ever left home and thought, have I turned off the air conditioning? With a smart system you can check in to make sure you have so you aren’t wasting valuable energy. And you can also turn on the system remotely. “So before you head home from the office, you can come home to a comfy house,” Adam says.
With systems like Polyaire, Adam adds that you can adjust the volume of conditioned air going into each air-conditioning zone in your home, all from one device. “AirTouch 4 also sends you temperature alerts, so if the home is getting too warm or cold, you get an alert on your smartphone inviting you to turn on the AC,” he explains.
Ceiling fans are a great way to provide cooling comfort at home. They’ve come a long way in the last few years in terms of energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal, but that’s only part of the story. Amber Mostert from Big Ass Fans says a ceiling fan with integrated smart technology can provide users with unparalleled personalised comfort. “The technology offers the ability to monitor temperature and humidity, adjusting the fan speed to maintain constant comfort,” she says. “There’s also the ability to sense occupancy and learn a user’s preferences without pulling chains or flipping switches — it’s changed the industry. This smart learning technology, paired with an integrated inverter drive motor, will help to optimise energy conservation.”
New innovations in windows and doors
It’s not just air conditioners and fans that are getting a whole lot smarter. There are plenty of new innovations in windows and doors to help keep you cool.
Emma Truong, marketing manager of Rylock Windows and Doors, says a high-performance window and door system features materials that keep the home at an optimal temperature for year-round comfort. “Thermally broken frames incorporate a polyamide insulator between the internal and external aluminium extrusions to minimise heat transfer,” she explains. This barrier improves energy efficiency.
Low-emissivity (low-e) glass was developed to reduce infrared and ultraviolet light without impacting on natural light levels. Emma explains that low-e glass is an advanced technology that features an invisible metallic coating. “It’s applied to the internal glass surface and enhances the product’s insultation properties. It is our standard specification at Rylock,” she says.
Always opt for superior window solutions — it is your key to comfort at home. A quality window system will also feature multiple weather seals to minimise air leakage. Emma says that’s an important factor in maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the home. “If you want to take advantage of cooler evening breezes, select a manufacturer with keylock and flyscreen inclusions to enhance comfort, provide peace of mind and secure ventilation,” she adds.
Smart windows and doors are also evolving with new technology to keep you safe at home. Door and window sensors have components that can communicate with your smartphone. They can send an alert if a door or window is left open, and when combined with a complete security system, a smart sensor can trigger an alarm.
These high-rise gardens have a host of benefits. By providing shade, and absorbing heat from the air above as well as C02 emissions, green roofs have much to offer. Not only is a green roof aesthetically pleasing, it can reduce urban heat island effects (when natural land cover is replaced by buildings that absorb and hold heat). Green roofs also reduce stormwater run-off and provide habitat for some animals and beneficial insect species.
If you are not into the green roof scene, opt for a lighter-coloured roof — it can cool interiors by reflecting rather than absorbing the heat.
Smart textiles to keep you cool
Smart fabrics have been around for a while but many were bulky, expensive and very fragile. In 2020, the American Chemical Society created ground-breaking wearable technology, a garment that adapts to changing weather conditions. It heats and cools the skin, with no external power source. It’s made from silk and chitosan, a material from the hard outer skeleton of shellfish. With the technology still in its infancy, who knows what will unfold. Perhaps chair covers, couches, sheets, doonas, and throws made from fabric to keep you cosy all year round? We will have to wait and see.