Finding the perfect shade angle for a Tropical Modern House in Costa Rica

To be able to truly enjoy a terrace in the tropics where you can sit all day regardless of the day’s weather conditions (sunny or rainy), an expert like an architect can help you with the design’s orientation of your home or with choosing the right shade device.One easy way of making sure you are in the proper direction, is to check shades at the location at 3 pm in the afternoon ( warmest time during the day in most parts of Costa Rica)during equinox , summer and winter solstice. If the specific location gets enough shade during these times of the year, more likely you will get enough shade all year long.  How can we do this? I personally use the EcoTect Program, a BIM Modeling system that is a great tool that allows me to design a specific overhang or shade device , horizontal or vertical, and explore  and give my client different options that will also emphasize views and good ventilation .

Here’s the typical scenario: houses near the beach usually are oriented to south west or west to maximize ocean views  also get a lot of heat coming in due to the orientation. Here’s three important ideas to create the perfect environment.

Step 1. In these situations it is extremely important to use a vertical shade device and extend the overhang up to 3,5 meters (depending on the width of the terrace) . When doing the landscape, choose trees with skinny trunk but that can grow tall.Picture2.  Horizontal shading devices do not effectively shade this terrace.Check how the terrace has no shade at all.

Tropical House design with a sliding vertical shading device that effectively drops in the correct shadow angle on the terrace.Chontales de Osa, Costa Rica.

4.Completely shaded terrace during march at 3pm

Completely shaded terrace during march at 3pm with vertical shading device.Check out how the terrace receives a nice reflected shadow with an interesting geometric form on the floor.

1. House with horizontal shading device

Same House with horizontal shading device, see how the terrace is completely exposed to the sun.

2.Horizontal shading devices do not effectively shade this 3 meter wide terrace

Too much sun on this terrace!

Step2. Ventilation. Being able to regulate the amount of breeze coming in is important. Some terraces in Costa Rica fail their purpose because of their orientation towards main wind. One can’t even enjoy a cup of coffee in peace. Here’s where the design tools we have available come into place. We can design and control the amount of breeze coming into the terrace with shade devices and measure the speed of local breezes with EcoTect too. Optimal orientation is crucial here.
Making sure the house doesn’t face the main air circulation in a perpendicular way, and rather, in a 45 degree angle, helps speed up breeze.  Vertical shade devices help reduce wind flow, specially those designed with some mesh like material.

Picture 5.  Stopping excessive wind, blue color means we have achieved 1.5 meters per second breeze for an optimal terrace use. High speeds show in yellow.
5.Stopping excessive wind, blue color means we have achieved 1.5 meters per second breeze for an optimal terrace use

Step3.  Architecture good practices teach us how higher ceilings help naturally ventilate indoor spaces, and those ceilings also play an important role when defining a shade angle: it will determine the overall width of a shaded terrace.

Picture 6. Do’s and don’ts. To your right, the typical mistake of so called designers who do not test their “solutions”.

6. Do's and don'ts.001

Next time you are interested in remodeling your Costa Rica home or start building a house with a great deck or terrace, take into consideration these techniques.  They will help you have a successful outdoor covered terrace.

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