I live in Louisiana these days, in an area that is known for its numerous antebellum plantation homes (circa early 1800s). While touring one of these homes it was clear that almost everything about the house was designed around keeping cool in the summer. Some examples:

  • 4 meter high ceilings to allow hot air to rise to the ceiling.
  • Floor to ceiling windows to allow hot air at the top to escape and cool air to be drawn in at the bottom.
  • Porches on the sunny sides of the house to prevent sunlight from entering the windows.
  • Large central staircases to allow hot air to rise to the second floor, drawing cool air in on the bottom floor.
  • Some have a cupola, a central observation room at the top of the house, again to allow hot air to escape at the top of the house and draw air in from the bottom.

My question is: Given our modern understanding of thermodynamics, how could one design a home today to be cooled passively? Could we do any better than the plantation owners of the 1800s?

Lets define cooling as making the house more comfortable for humans. This means that it is not only important to reduce the temperature, but also to block sunlight and maintain airflow. Also, if possible, it would be very beneficial to extract moisture from the air.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you define as active and passive? Does passive only include methods of allowing heat to escape and no form of machinery designed to speed up the process? Example, would a fan in the skylight designed to blow hot air out of the house be considered active or passive? $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    May 7, 2014 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ I had envisioned passive as not even including fans, but I would still be interested in answers that included fans. I'm mainly interested in how it could be done without modern air conditioning units. $\endgroup$ May 7, 2014 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question, in that case. My gut says that the trial and error method that gave rise to the houses of the 1800s might be less sophisticated but would produce maximal results by virtue of trial and error. But my head says I should wait and see what interesting answers pop up $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    May 7, 2014 at 16:54