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“A Home in the Shade!!” • May 16, 2006

It’s time for something completely different!!

Suppose it’s one of those really hot crummy days like Texas can produce that will broil you just looking out the window.  Got the picture in your mind? Now suppose that instead of looking out from the comforts of your little air conditioned upholstered cave, you’re gonna have to stand out under that sun — for HOURS!

AND — suppose that you have two choices where to stand — out in the middle of your back yard — or under a covered breezeway.  Now — where the dickens are you gonna stand?  If you answered, “out in the middle of the yard,” then you have already been out in the sun way too long.  Nice people in clean white coats will come around and put you someplace where you can’t hurt yourself.

We’ll assume that you’re not on the way to a padded cell and answered, “under the breezeway.”  Keep that in mind as we move on to the next question.  Same indescribably miserable day, but you’re going to the mall for some serious power shopping, (or if you’re a guy, going to some air conditioned sports cathedral to watch knuckle dragging brutes beat the tarnation out of each other.)  Now the question is, where do you park you car?  Out in the middle of the black topped parking lot, (that both looks and feels like a cast iron skillet,) or in a multi level concrete garage with open sides for ventilation that Texas is famous for building?  Hmmm?  Which vehicle do you want to trudge back to for the ride home?

SO — now let’s take a look at your house or office.  Is it standing under a breezeway?  NO — it’s sitting out in the middle of your yard.  Is it parked under the roof of a parking garage?  NOPE — it’s sautéing away in a house parking lot called a “subdivision.”

And not only is your house baking away, YOU are the one paying the A/C bill in August which is probably bigger than your mortgage!  And I won’t even mention what the environmental cost of all that electric power adds up to.  Have no fear, I’ll get around to flogging that dead horse in one of the little ditties, too.  It’s a lot worse, (and better,) than you think.

SO — what is the point — and even better — what is the solution?  (I really should be charging admission!)

Take a look at the richly detailed diagram, (I save my drawing skills for naughty pictures,) below of a front elevation of your office, (probably, that is — offices tending to come in the shape of cubes — actually parallelepipeds, but who’s a purist?)

Not only is old Mister Sun cooking your office, he is also cooking your goose when it comes to your electric bill!  AND to add insult to injury, if your office has a flat roof like this, it’s a sucker bet that you’ve likely got a “built up roof” which means it’s covered with BLACK tar with 3/8 inch pea gravel sprinkled over it!  Isn’t that just ducky!  Not only does the surface absorb heat like thighs absorb cellulite, it also only last about 27 seconds because all the heat cooks out the volatiles in the tar and it cracks — and then your roof leaks!  So — you get to pay both arms and a leg to haul up more black heat absorbing tar so your can cook it into oblivion, too!!  The only bright side is that — well — there isn’t one!  By the way, there is a darn good reason that roofers show up before dawn and disappear before noon — an hour on your afternoon roof and they’ll be past well done to the charcoal briquette stage!

SO — what to do??  Observe the next little picture and see if it gives you any ideas.

Mister Sun doesn’t look quite as happy anymore!  What a charming development!  The solution — put a roof OVER your roof!!  (And before any of you clowns out there send me any of “those” little zingers, I left out the roof supports for clarity!  It’s not filled with helium and floating on air!  GUYS!!!)

Also, we’ve gotten rid of the black tar and replaced it with something reflective — like WHITE — what a revolutionary thought!  But what kind of white “something?”  That kind of depends on your part of the country.  If you live in Texas like me, you just need something that won’t blow away, (which considering I live in tornado alley isn’t something to take lightly.)  If you can toss snowballs over the border into Canada, then you need to be concerned about snow loads.  Talk to a local architect and see what they recommend.  (I’m not gonna give out all my secrets for free!)

SO — this second roof — it’s gonna cost money — right?  Yep — but if you think about the difference between a middle floor of a parking garage and the roof of the garage, it doesn’t take even take Norman Einstein to figure out that you’re gonna get your money back VERY fast.

If you take a “very cool” Texas Gulf Coast August day of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the shade temperature really is 90 degrees — that’s how they measure temperature.  The dead space between your occupied air conditioned offices and the roof is at least 130 if not a heck of a lot more — temperatures have been recorded in the 160 to 180 range!!!  By putting a second roof about the building that is open so the breeze, (and there is always at least some,) can flush out the heat, then the breeze will bring the temperature down to the 90 shade range.  I’ll bet you can pay off that roof VERY quickly with that heat differential!!

OK — that’s an idealized case — but let’s throw in a couple of minor realities.  Your neighbors or the dreaded “architectural design” people may object to the weird open space.  SO — you close it cosmetically with some wide louvers.  Second problem is that every pigeon on six planets may move into your perfect nesting area — so you may have to put some screening behind the louvers.  The louvers won’t slow the air circulation down much, but the screen will.  SO — you may have to add a few ventilation fans to keep the air moving — but fans cost a heck of a lot less to run than A/C compressors!  And if you add a forest of turbine ventilators across the top, they cost nothing to run.  (Make sure you get some with decent bearing so they don’t start squeaking and annoy me so much I have to nuke your office to preserve my sanity — and when it comes to sanity, I’ve got to hang on to what little I’ve got!)

Let’s suppose that you live in one of those areas that not only gets hot, but also experiences something called “winter,” (I’m not sure exactly what that is — something about “cold” weather.)  SO — what happens when the blizzards start howling?  I don’t know about you, but I’d make those louvers hinged and adjustable.  Open in summer to let the wind carry away trapped heat — closed in winter to hold in the heat and lower you heating bills!  I love things that go both ways!

OK — maybe, (big maybe,) you’re saying that the blond hasn’t lost all her marbles, but what about houses?  Not too many of them have flat roofs.  SO — just check the next little drawing of your house from the side. 

By the way, like Hitchcock and Spielberg, I always like to get into my pictures.  I’m doing a little nude sunbathing — you know working on my tan lines — on the other side of the house.  Keep watching, maybe I’ll stroll around the corner!

SO — we see the same principle at work.  This time, the opening is horizontal to keep the “residential design committee” off our case.  It still looks like a regular roof.  The difference is that the eaves are wide open to again let the breeze purge the oven heated air.  And again, louvers can be used to control the air flow for summer and winter.

This is not a full engineering design by any means, but maybe it’ll be a springboard for your own ideas.  AND — it’s already been one for me.  My next house will have two roofs.  And when we start construction of the fabulous MeredithLand™ Intergalactic Headquarters, you can bet it’ll be built “in the shade!!”



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Last Updated: May 2006

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