People who live in Florida or Texas often accuse energy-efficiency experts of having a cold-climate bias. They’re right: most energy-saving tips are written with cold-climate buildings in mind — perhaps understandably, since Americans spend about twice as much for residential heating as they do for cooling.
Whatever the origins of this pervasive cold-climate bias, it’s time to rectify the situation with a few hot-climate design tips.
Most builders know that house designs need to be climate-specific. In areas of the country where air conditioning bills are higher than heating bills — as they are along the Gulf Coast and in much of Florida — homes should be designed to reject exterior heat.
So what are the most important factors governing hot-climate design?
Over the past decade, our understanding of the best building practices for hot climates has been significantly advanced by researchers working at the Florida Solar Energy Center. Useful hot-climate research has also been conducted by engineers from the Building Science Corporation; much of this research has been funded by the Department of Energy’s Building America program. The following advice represent a distillation of researchers’ findings.
Although many of these suggested measures may seem obvious, they are widely ignored. When I last visited Nevada, I noticed that large residential developers like Pulte Homes don’t bother to orient their buildings to the points of the compass; rather, new homes are plopped down at random. Driving around Las Vegas, it’s easy to see hundreds of new homes with stingy roof overhangs and unshaded windows exposed to the full glare of the Nevada sun.
Remember, if you live in a mixed climate — that is, one with significant heating as well as air conditioning bills — you’ll need to include a selection of measures that help a home retain heat…