More about passive strategies: correct orientation and location of a house.

Right orientation of a structure in Costa Rica can be tricky. There are 10 basic types of ¨local climates¨ all over the country which result in a huge variety of different microclimates.Flora and fauna biodiversity are blessed with these conditions, and one of the main objectives of tropical modern architecture is to design with nature, adapting designs to local weather. Not adapting the weather to a house. This can probably be the main reason for construction materials not being as durable as we thought so.

Example of site analysis combined with microclimate analysis.

When you decide to adapt your home design to respond to a specific local weather, first thing you do is define the correct orientation of the built environment. This is where all starts, either your maintenance problems or discomfort inside the house, or a healthy and livable  space.

There are 4 climatic elements that, if taken in count when designing a project, will guide us through the process of discovering what is the right orientation. Because house orientations are so diverse as Costa Rica microclimates.

First, if you know the features of  Sunstroke in you area, you will be able to take as much advantage or protection against this element. Reflected radiation, sky conditions and solar radiation can help you decide what is the best design and materials for your roof and walls for example. Or how to take the most advantage of a photovoltaic system. You could even decide if to collect some heat within your walls or reflect it back to the atmosphere.

This chart is commonly used to define shading elements like eaves, trellises, balconies or some other architectural projection.

Solar chart for Costa Rica. This chart is commonly used to define shading elements like eaves, trellises and architectural projections.

Second, if you know your temperature variations along a year , you will be able to make the right decisions about  mass thermal insulation. This has to do with what kind of materials you select in order to provide the best coatings that work correctly in your area. This way you will minimize  heat uptake in roof and walls.

R y Q values for different types of walls

The third feature is very important, and this involves a landscape architect. Humidity in the air is known to have a strong corelation with rainfall. It mainly defines dry and rainy seasons all over Costa Rica. For example if  humidity is constant, like in our caribbean area, rainfalls will remain constant as well. And rains are a very important subject to take in count when designing. There needs to be a defined planning in  landscape design  that involves infiltration planters , vegetated swales and rain gardens. You may consider having water channeling strategies because as we costaricans say, it pours cats and dogs in our country !

Lastly, know what the main wind direction is in your area. Lack of natural ventilation is a big issue nowadays, accentuated by the world´s  energetic crisis. If you decide to naturally ventilate your home, do not forget this concept: crossed ventilation. Due to Costa Rica´s proximity to the Equator, to the varied topography and the narrowness of the territory-sandwiched between two large bodies of water- has winds that come from three different sources: global winds, local winds and land-sea breezes. Take advantage of such unique conditions!

If you want to know more about your specific microclimate and the correct location and orientation of your future tropical house  don´t hesitate on dropping a line. I can make a specific research for your lot location!

*this article was was written based upon  the book ¨Estrategias Pasivas para Costa Rica, una aplicacion regional del diseno bioclimatico¨ by Arq. Jerry L. Germer , 1986.

3 comments
  1. Leonardo Pimentel said:

    ¡Excelente información! Estamos planeando la construcción de nuestra casa en un clima similar y esta información es oro para tener conceptos claros al momento de abordar el diseño del proyecto. Muy, muy agradecido de un hermano chapín en México.

  2. Valerie Hughes said:

    Hi Gloriana, thank you so much for all of this useful info!
    My partner and I are planning on moving to Costa Rica in the next month. Our plan is to find a farm, and build a house. We are very interested in the Puriscal area, and there is very little information. Anything you could provide would be greatly appreciated!
    We are very interested in restoring and reforesting the area as I know it has been mostly used for cattle grazing and monoculture crops. In the meantime, however, we want to build a house which will be cool in the dry season and also take advantage of the sun in the green season. Ideally we would love to live in a very open home with little to no glass windows.
    Any thoughts?

    Best,
    Valerie

    • Hi Valerie. Puriscal is a very interesting area due to the constant changes in the local weather. I will gladly help you find the solution for your needs in a respectful manner to the environment. Please let’s continue through email and thanks for your interest in my work. Write to gloriana@dottarchitecture.com

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