Free Essay Sample: Sustainable Design for a House in the Tropics

Published: 2019-06-13 08:11:34
Free Essay Sample: Sustainable Design for a House in the Tropics
Categories: Architecture Design
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1910 words
16 min read

Design for a house in the tropics needs to be different from of other houses mainly because of the environmental factors. These houses need to be sustainable but still safe. Sustainability of a house is its ability to withstand the environmental conditions through the application of appropriate designs. The designs should minimize the impacts the environmental factors have on the given building. Most common house designs are for houses meant for temperate climates; therefore, there is a need for creation of designs specific to the location of the house. In some places, some guidelines have been set to help engineers design tropical houses (Bay & Ong, 2007).

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When building the house in the tropics there are different design factors that need to be taken into deep consideration. Some of these factors include:

Passive design is a special design aimed at creating a design that takes advantage of wanted conditions such as sunlight and breeze and keeps the unwanted conditions such as heat or cold out. The advantage of applying a passive design is that it reduces the need for mechanical cooling or heating. Passive designs include building designs that has shades, specific orientations, designs that take advantage of the natural light, and most importantly the use of appropriate materials. These designs will make the building energy sufficient and cheap given the minimized cost for cooling, heating, and lighting, and also comfortable.


Orientation is an important feature in the designing of a tropical house. When designing a house in the tropics, it is important for a designer to take into serious considerations the daily and seasonal movement of the wind and the sun in that given location. Orientation of the house will determine how the design will take advantage of the natural resources and at the same time keep out the unwanted ones. The site of the building and the arrangement of the rooms is the orientation. For instance, the house should be at a position where it can achieve maximum airflow and achieve natural light but still be shaded from direct sunlight (Buys, 2005).


In the tropics house, ventilation is a very important feature. The design of the ventilation system of the house should be able to curb the natural ventilation this is whereby the air in the house can circulate naturally without the need for air conditioning. The orientation of the building should take into consideration the needed ventilation. If the house has the right orientation then the prevailing winds will play a major role in the ventilation of the house. To take advantage of the prevailing winds the design should be in such a way that the windows, vents, and doors are aligned. Another important feature is that the design should minimize internal obstacles that may hinder airflow in the house, there internal walls should not hinder airflow.


Landscaping is an important feature in the cooling of the building. In buildings surrounded by plants and vegetation, the temperatures tend to be cool. In places such us urban centers where there are paved roads, driveways and parking areas all made of hard surfaces the temperatures tend to be higher this is because these surfaces absorb heat from the sun then radiate it through what has been regarded as the urban heat island effect. In places with plants and vegetation outside the houses, the plants create cool environments this is because of the transpiration and moisture from the plants that cools the air around them and when the air is blown into the house the temperature becomes cool. Planting of grass and trees around the building will be a significant move into creating a cool internal and external environment (Ionin, 1999).

Thermal Mass

Thermal mass is the ability of a material to store or absorb heat and release it. In the construction, the materials will determine the internal temperatures. For tropical buildings, the most appropriate materials to use should be lightweight. Lightweight materials are known to have low thermal mass and taking into consideration the temperature conditions in the tropics they are the most suitable especially for the parts of the building that are exposed to the sun. Timber is a perfect example of a low thermal mass material, timbers tends to respond quickly to breezes hence allowing the building to become cool much faster, some materials however need more insulation. Insulation of some of the building materials are to reduce the direct heat transfer from the sun to the material, through this the efficiency of the mechanical cooling effect of the material is improved. If high thermal materials are used in a house in the tropics, the heat from the warm nights may not be flushed out but instead be radiated back into the house making the house significantly hot. If the high thermal materials need to be used the materials should be shaded or insulated well in order to reduce the transfer of heat.


Insulation is a heat reduction feature. In the tropics the temperatures tend to rise it is therefore necessary for the insulation designs to be made. Places that need insulation in most cases are the walls, ceiling, and the roof. Insulation does not only protect against heat gain but also heat loss, in the summer the insulation keeps the heat out and in the winter, the insulation keeps the heat in. There are two types insulation: reflective insulation and bulk insulation. Reflective isolation is mostly used on roofs the roof sheeting is insulated hence keeping the heat inside the house in. Bulk insulation at the other hand is the insulation that aims at reducing loss of cool air, if cool air is trapped in a building the air conditioning will improve. When shopping for the insulation materials the engineer should consider the materials R value. A materials R value is a value that represents the materials ability to resist heat flow, the higher the value the greater the insulating power (Mihelcic, 2014).


Windows are important features of a house. Windows are not just spaces on walls but important components of the houses ventilation system, light, and scenery. Ventilation is the most important use of windows this is why their designing should be in such a way that they can allow direct airflow into the building. In order to save money and reduce use of energy the ventilation could be design in such a way that air conditioning is not important especially in cooler periods. Casement and louvers type windows are the best window designs that enable residents to control the amount of air the want to get into their buildings. The windows should be placed at the highest point of the room this way it can allow convectional air flow. Other designs may include features tinted glass. Tinted glass reduces light and heat from getting into the building. The glass could also be designed with reflective coatings reflective coatings are normally of thin films of metal oxide or metal. The reflective surface of the glass reduces heat gain through reflection the only set back of using this kind of design is that the reflective feature can reduce the light getting into the building significantly. The glass can also be treated to advance glazing technologies. This kind of technology helps the window prevent the house from gaining heat especially in the summer.

Natural Lighting

Light is very important in a building. Improving lighting in a building means reduction energy usage. Both residential and office buildings needs natural light especially for daily use. For tropical building scenery is a main preference for many. The design should therefore take this into consideration and choose a lighting system that also brings out the scenery. There are different arrays of lighting solutions such s the use of light shelves, Skylights, Clerestory windows, light tubes and atria. It is important for an engineer to also consider heat gain and glare, the materials chosen should manage glare and reduce heat transfer (Lechner, 2014).

Energy Efficient Systems and Appliances

Every engineer should always consider fitting the building with systems that do not use too much energy, too much energy translates to too much cost and no one is willing to live in a house that is too costly. Lighting, air conditioning, and hot water systems are the common appliances that almost all houses need. The design of the building greatly dictates the need for energy. If a building is ventilated well then the use of air conditioning systems reduces, if a building has good lighting there will be no need for residents to switch on lights during the day. The design of the building also determines the kind of lighting and air conditioning systems needed (Bay, 2004).

Water Management

Water is an essential need in every building. Water is necessary for cleaning, drinking, cooking, and also disposal. In order to improve the usage and presence of this commodity the engineer can incorporate features such as water storage systems and recycling systems. Water should also be able to reach the resident efficiently. Places such as the kitchen, washrooms, bathrooms, and swimming pools need water.

Local Environment

The local environment includes the temperatures, weather conditions, and location. When designing a building these are the first factors to consider as mentioned above the environment conditions will determine the lighting designs, orientation, material of use among other factors. A serious scrutiny of the location should be carried out or else the building will become inhospitable or at risk of being violated by the local environmental conditions. Some places will need extra water storages, some places may need elevation because of the risk of flash floods, and some buildings will need insulation because of the high or low temperatures among other things (Li & Lam, 2000).

Construction Materials

After choosing a location for building, the next step will be determining the appropriate materials for construction. As mentioned above materials needed for constructing a house in the tropics are very different from the ones that can be used on a house in temperate areas. For instance, the tropical houses need to be protected from the shifting weather conditions through insulation. Insulation helps keep the heat out in the summer and in the winter keep the heat in. Other local environmental factors in that location such as the strength of the wind, strength of rain, and type of soil also need to be taken into consideration. The availability of the materials is also a factor.


Like every construction project the engineer should take a lot of time choosing the right location for the building. After choosing the location, the next step will be to study the surrounding environment. Environmental conditions determine the general design of the buildings. Some locations may require special features such as the type of orientation of the building. The better the study of the environment the more durable and hospitable the building will be. The engineer will also need to design not only a safe house but also a house with energy efficient systems. The same systems should also obey the tropical conditions and the general building design. Another factor that the designer or engineer should consider is the type of building or the use of the building. If the building is residential then a certain design will be appropriate and if the building will be an office building a certain design will also be appropriate. Moreover, there are some countries that have already laid out guidelines that help engine...

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