Hot house: Form or function?

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Many Filipinos are now suffering from the sweltering heat and the constant reminder from media about how hot it is really doesn’t help, unless it’s just to warn people to limit outdoor activities, etc. The over-all electricity consumption is rocketing, and it won’t be long before warnings are issued or rotating blackouts are declared.

My daughter Hannah has implored me to please write something about the need to plant so many trees to somehow deflect the heat, increase oxygen and when the rainy seasons come around, hopefully reduce landslides and flooding. All that of course is part of what she has learned while studying in the Netherlands and EU where they are acutely aware of climate change.

This current state of heat and difficulty in the Philippines brings me back 22 years ago on how we went through a slow process of elimination to radically reduce the heat in our “Hot House.” As we were building our home in Pasig, we were challenged by the location of our small lot that was facing west, or the hot afternoon sun.

During my talks for BMeg feeds, I generally advise people, as well as farmers, to pay attention to lot orientation so that heat buildup does not become a problem. In our case, however, we had no choice. As the structure began to rise, it became clear that we were going to have to do something about the design because afternoons soon turned the front side into a veritable oven.

We had designed the house based on the old houses of the Philippines that had high ceilings and cross ventilation which makes old houses cooler, but the lot orientation presented a serious challenge. Our architect and builder suggested using double glazed windows, but the price was just as much as the weight of the windows. So, the next choice was reflective glass windows the size of doors.

The concept was stylish, provided privacy from onlookers and supposedly cuts the heat by 70 percent. The problem was that it cost us a small fortune and meant that we would have to close the windows between 1 and 5 pm. We bit the bullet and paid for the windows, and they certainly completed the “form” of the design. Unfortunately, where there was lots of form or “porma,” the windows failed in the “function” part.

The two floors facing west built up and absorbed so much heat in four to five hours and would release all that stored heat in the evening. The reflective glass surely cut off some of the sunlight but not enough to cool or regulate the room temperature. On numerous occasions we had to open the air conditioner which was technically supposed to be a backup only. A few years later, the area is crowded, traffic goes through our barangay and climate change have all combined to even higher ambient temperatures.

As the summer days grew unbearable, I became desperate enough to try crazy solutions such as extra tint on the windows. That failed and was a total waste of money because tints just made the room darker and peeled off a few months later.

My wife Karen joined the problem solving and started sewing up a “black out curtain” while I did the unthinkable and unfashionable: I bought a roll of insulation material like they use for ceilings and factories and placed them behind the curtains. As expected, the material cut the direct temperature by five degrees but raised the “Ugly” factor by a thousand!!! Desperate times may require desperate measures, but “Ugly” should not be part of it.

We eventually went back to our “drawing board” and pre-construction notes and remembered that one of our first options was to install a trellis and Singapore-style shutter windows. What prevented us from doing the shutter windows was their extremely high cost as well as the challenge of maintaining and preserving wood.

Setting aside the shutters, we seriously studied the trellis solution. With my experience in resort construction and car restoration, making an all-steel trellis was not daunting. The next big challenge was finding the right plant/vine and after several picks we ended up with what they call the Millionaire’s Vine or Buhok ni Maria, a leafy perennial vine that shoots out reddish-colored fine aerial roots.

After a slow start, the vines soon took over everything, climbed all the way to our roof deck four floors high and because we have a small narrow lot, the vines completely covered our frontage. The house has been the coolest it has ever been, and most people appreciate the natural look. The vines also offer us a green wall instead of staring over roofs and electrical lines. This year, we have started germinating upo, sayote, ampalaya, etc. that we hope to train over the 30 percent shade net over the roof deck.

I share this story simply to encourage you all to consider “alternative solutions.” When we used to rent a bungalow in the 90s, it was another oven with a tin roof and no insulation. After one summer, we installed shade nets used in orchidariums by installing a 1.5-meter high framing on top of the tin roof.

The concept is similar to bunkers that are covered with camouflage during wars. The shade net and framing is similar to putting up a fake green house on top of your roof. Believe me, a 70 percent shade net from Harbest will cool your roof and deflect the heat.

Whether you use shade nets, plants and trellises, white reflective roof and wall paints, inverter air conditioners, green walls or plant trees, there is a solution that will help beat the heat and keep you cool. God bless you all.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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