The Phuket News did some diligent research, and spoke with one local architect who not only says it's possible, but has achieved it.
Cost of comfort
A large majority of the island's electricity – all of which is sourced from fossil-fuel burning plants in Krabi, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla provinces, with an untold amount of it lost on its way to Phuket – is gobbled up by the tens of thousands of air-conditioning units to cool down all the many hotels, houses, offices, convenience stores and shopping malls, and not to mention the construction crews and their power tools we depend on to build and maintain all of our modern comforts. But is all this necessary? Perhaps not.
Welcome to 2014
While profit-motivated developers continue to clear lush landscapes and dish out poorly designed, conveyer-belt, meter-spinning shoe-boxes to the mass-market, a new type of environmentally-conscious architecture and design is emerging: “eco design”. To learn about the implications of this new market, The Phuket News sat down with Khamron “Kaew” Sutthi, MD of EcoArchitect, a Phuket firm with a hand in various interesting projects throughout the country.
Kaew explained that his firm emphasizes on passive engineering and design to reduce if not eliminate the need for air conditioning.
“The first thing we look at is maximizing the 'solar shading', to protect the building from the sun.”
He explained that to achieve solar shading, the design can implement various techniques, whether utilizing natural elements on the property, such as trees and other vegetation, applying special materials or layouts on the exterior of the building, or even simply installing insulation to inhibit heat outside from penetrating a building's interior.
“Usually Thai buildings have a short roof, but we can design a larger roof to improve solar shading. The idea is to keep the sun's energy out of the interior of the house. In Phuket, the sun is very strong, so it's important to minimize the sun's heating of the interior. For those who want natural lighting and sun, we can add a sun-deck, with a buffer zone between the sundeck and interior, or what we call the 'bubble' or 'shading deck'.”
He went on to talk about the next point about passive cooling – natural ventilation, which involves taking advantage of the natural wind to ventilate the building, and remove heat within the house.
“The first thing you have to determine is which direction the wind is coming from, and then design the ventilation system to take advantage of that … Sometimes, you may have to elevate the house to be able to access that wind, a meter or two, as other obstructions on the same level, especially in an urban neighborhood setting, may prevent the wind from reaching the building.”
Another interesting eco-cooling method that merits more experimentation – in Phuket, Thailand and worldwide for that matter – is “cooling tubes”, which are ventilation tubes buried underground that can move cooler air from below the earth's surface, up to cool a room or building on the surface.
“Using a special ventilation tube fitted with ventilation fans, for example, it is possible to move cooler air from a few metres below the surface, into the surface room, building.”
However, Kaew points out that using this method in Phuket might not be so practical due to the high humidity in the air.
“This is more ideal for arid regions, such as up in the Northeast and parts of Central Thailand. In tropical areas like Phuket, sure, the tube would move cooler air up to the surface but the humid air coming out would have a strong musty aroma, and not healthy or ideal. You would need to develop a way to absorb the humidity from the air for it to be a practical and comforting solution here,” Kaew said.
In the next Happy Habitat column, we'll talk about a technology/device that does exactly that – extracts water from thin air, for gardening and even drinking!
HAPPY HABITAT is a House and Home column by The Phuket News' environmental guru Steven Layne. This column originally appeared in the October 10, 2014 edition of The Phuket News. You can reach Steven by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.