Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm not a Fan of the Turbine Fan

K and I were talking about the whole house fan thing and why we don’t need one of those turbine-like fans on our roof. Apparently, back in 1909, houses were built with attics that were vented on two sides, allowing air to move freely. So air is drawn up into our attic and hot air is moved out through the open attic. Later, homes were made with sealed attics, thus necessitating the installation of the turbine fan.

I am in no way endorsing John McCaine, but sometimes older is better. And sometimes, way older is way better. I was fascinated by an article about sustainability in this month’s Dwell. (yes, I live in a Craftsman but with fantasies of a Modern.)

The article mentioned Windcatchers. I’m a theatre geek, not an engineering geek; I understand nothing about how anything works and I am rarely curious about the mechanics of things.

But I have to say, this Windcatcher thing was fascinating! The Windcatcher is a method of cooling used in ancient Persia. It's basically a ventilation shaft that takes advantage of natural air flow to control interior temperatures.

Wikipedia does a good job of explaining the concept here. But the May issue of Dwell, gives a good explanation without dwelling on the details, in an article on The Lighthouse, a model for sustainable architecture in the London area.

The system doesn't work in all environments. The conditions have to be right for air movement. But it did make me wonder why such simple and low tech temperature control methods would be abandoned in 20th century architecture. Was it all a conspiracy to sell turbine fans and air conditioning units?

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