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International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp.



The passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular residential architecture: An experimental investigation on wind flow and thermal comfort


Department of Civil Engineering, National Institute of Technology Calicut, Kerala, India ** Department of Architecture, National Institute of Technology Calicut, Kerala, India Email: dili@nitc.ac.in, naseer@nitc.ac.in, zacharia@nitc.ac.in

Abstract: A building envelope is not only designed to house its occupants for various functional requirements but also for a comfortable indoor environment that is essential to perform various activities efficiently. The vernacular architecture at any place is evolved through ages by consistent and continuous effort for more efficient and perfect solutions. The vernacular architecture of Kerala is known for its use of natural and passive methods for a comfortable indoor environment. The orientation of building, internal arrangement of spaces, the presence of internal court-yard, use of locally available materials and special methods of construction etc. have together created the indoor environment. The authors have conducted a detailed investigation of the passive environment control system of vernacular architecture of Kerala by continuously monitoring the indoor comfort conditions in residential buildings of more than 250 years old. This investigation proves that the passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular architecture is very effective. Key words: Kerala, passive environment control system, vernacular architecture, wind velocity, thermal comfort

Introduction One of the basic functions of a building is to provide its occupants, not only safety and shelter, but also protection from adverse natural elements like sun, rain and wind. In order to ensure that the occupants are comfortable physiologically and psychologically, it is important that the indoors are kept at optimum comfort conditions. The climatic elements solar radiation, air temperature, relative humidity and air movement play a vital role in conditioning the indoor environment. Climate of a region has a direct influence on the settlement pattern and in its built form. Any good building should relate and respond to the climate it is situated in. A built form is designed for the beneficial aspect of the climate and to reduce the impact of unfavorable conditions. The layout, orientation and scale of buildings and settlements should therefore be controlled in relation to the climatic zones

(Krishnan A., et. al., 2001). The influence of climate in the evolution of vernacular architecture is evident from various forms that exist in many parts of the globe. Kerala has a characteristic Warm-Humid climate because of its geographic settings. The presence of high amount of moisture in the atmosphere for major part of the year causes thermal discomfort as there is less evaporation, resulting in sweating. This becomes more acute in summer when the air temperature is higher than the body temperature. Prolonged exposure to thermal discomfort conditions can create adverse effects including extensive loss of efficiency in work along with physical strain (Lekha S Hegde and K S Ananthakrishna, 2008). The principles of vernacular architecture of Kerala are based on empirical observations and experimental wisdoms acquired through generations (A. Achyuthan and Balagopal T S Prabhu, 1998). The strength of vernacular architecture is that it makes

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The passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular residential architecture: An experimental investigation on wind flow and thermal comfort Kerala comes under the warm humid region. The climate of Kerala is characterized by heavy rainfall and high relative humidity, and relatively moderate temperature. In effect, Kerala has only two predominant seasons- rainy and dry seasons. The rainy season lasts for about half of the year, which has greatly determined the character of built form with its characteristic sloping roof. Summer comes under the dry season with hot and humid days and nights and intense solar radiation during the day time. Wind speed and direction is determined by the season and the temperature differences between land and sea. Predominant wind direction during monsoon period, i.e., June to September is west to South west and the effect of land breeze is not dominant during this period. During October November, wind direction changes from South - West to North - East. Though predominantly south west, the wind is influenced by the presence of other topographical features including the presence of large water bodies. Vernacular Architecture of Kerala Kerala vernacular buildings are built according to the principles of Vaastushastra, the Indian discipline on architecture (A. Achyuthan and Balagopal T S Prabhu, 1998). The basic house module of a vernacular Kerala house is nalukettu with four blocks built around an open courtyard. The blocks are topped with a sloping roof on four sides. They are generally rectangular or square in plan and the courtyard is open to sky for letting air and light inside. The enclosed courtyard is usually sunken such that cooler air settles down. The eves of the roof of the main blocks extends beyond the outer walls, covering another verandah at the front of the building (Fig 1). The roofs have high pitch up to 45 degrees to help the rain water drainage easier. The gables (mughappu) provided at the ends of roof helps to enhance ventilation and to allow the warm air to escape. Further,

buildings that are in natural harmony with climate, built form and people. The use of natural and passive methods in the vernacular Kerala architecture is found to be highly effective in providing thermal comfort cool indoor climate during summer and warmth in winter. The modern practice in architecture lacks conscious effort in using passive methods of controlling the indoor environment (Sunil Edward and Dona Kurian, 2008). Excessive use of modern materials irrespective of their efficiency in regulating the indoor environment has often resulted in high energy consumption, leading to many environmental problems. There is a close connection between energy use in buildings and the resulted environmental damage. This is because of energy intensive solutions that are required in buildings to attain comfort conditions in terms of cooling, ventilation and lighting. This has caused severe depletion of nonrenewable energy resources and environmental degradation. Investigations on natural and passive methods of ventilation in buildings are underway in the form of continuous evaluation of thermal comfort parameters of traditional buildings, in various countries (Kyung-Hoi Lee et. al., 1996, Lin Borong, et. al., 2004, Do-Kyoung Kim, 2005. Youngryel Ryu et. al., 2008). Although there have been attempts for qualitative analysis of the traditional buildings of Kerala, a comprehensive and quantitative study of the efficiency of these buildings is so far absent. No detailed investigations in this area have been published, especially in the form of technical papers in referred journals so far. Thus, there is a need for a quantitative analysis of the passive design of traditional residential buildings of Kerala using a real-time evaluation method. This would help the present day architects and engineers to adopt suitable techniques to make their design energy efficient and sustainable. Climate of Kerala According to Bureau of Indian Standards, India has been divided into five different regions with distinct climates in which

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271

DILI A. S, NASEER M. A, and ZACHARIA VARGHESE. T ventilators are provided for attic ventilation when wooden false ceiling is incorporated for the room spaces. The roofs thus enclose a large insulated air space thus, keeping the lower areas cooler.


and used as building blocks. Laterite blocks are mainly bonded in lime mortar, the classic binding material, in traditional buildings. It is strong and durable with exposure to atmospheric air. Wood is the major building material, used for construction, in Kerala. The skilful selection of wood, perfect joinery, artful assembly and subtle carving for columns, walls and roof frames are the unique characteristics of Kerala residential architecture. Mud is also used in many forms in traditional buildings which include mud walling, bricks, clay tiles (both roofing and flooring), mud mortar for laterite masonry and as filler for timber floors. Passive Environment Control System The traditional houses of Kerala are designed for the major problems faced due to excess of moisture in the atmosphere, heavy rainfall, intense solar radiation and effect of high temperature. Kerala vernacular buildings, square or rectangle in plan, are oriented strictly to the cardinal directions. This makes the spatial planning more perfect to control its environment with maximum comfort in all distinct seasons. The courtyard is commonly referred to as microclimate modifiers. They enjoy better microclimatic conditions than the surrounding open areas; have a positive effect on the indoor comfort conditions of the enclosing building volume (Krishnan A., et. al., 2001). Buildings usually have large number of openings, windows and ventilators. Provision of open or semi enclosed spaces also give comfort condition to the interiors. The buildings have verandahs located either on its two sides or on all four sides. Another remarkable feature in the Kerala vernacular architecture is the provision of open gables (mughappu) in the roof and the provision of wooden jalli (azhi) in the external walls at appropriate positions. The open gables (mughappu) seen mostly in southern part of Kerala, provides an opening in the roof for internal hot air to escape where false ceiling is not provided. The wooden jalli (azhi) in the external walls in appropriate positions helps to

Fig. 1: Plan and Longitudinal Section of a typical vernacular Kerala house with two courtyards of different sizes A typical Kerala traditional house consists of two major living areas - inner one forming the core of the house and the outer verandahs forming the periphery. The house form offer flexibility and it helps the inhabitants to shift their activities from one place to another in different climatic conditions. An important aspect of the Kerala traditional architecture is the usage of courtyards. In dry season the inner courtyards are used for drying, cleaning and preparing cereals, food etc (D. Vyas, 2005). The courtyard also functions as a major functional element in the house with most of the internal movement and circulation of people defined by the verandahs around the courtyard, as the major rooms are entered from this verandah. The commonly used building materials for vernacular construction in Kerala are mud, laterite, granite stone, lime mortar, wood, bamboo, clay tile roofing and coconut palm leaves. Laterite, seen in shallow depth, is the building material available in plenty in Kerala, which can be easily cut, dressed

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271


The passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular residential architecture: An experimental investigation on wind flow and thermal comfort sensors, data logger, memory module and computer interface (Figures 2, 3, 4, 5) was used to record the field data. Temperature sensors were located outside the building, in the courtyard, in the semi open space around the courtyard and in a bedroom adjacent to the courtyard. Indoor and outdoor wind velocities were also recorded simultaneously. A humidity sensor was fixed in the semi open space around the courtyard to record the indoor relative humidity. Continuous data were recorded for a period of 45 days at an interval of 15 minutes. The windows were kept open throughout the investigation for unobstructed wind flow inside the building.

draw external air with the effect of courtyards. The thermal insulation in buildings is achieved by the effective use of materials and the construction techniques used in building walls and roof. The external walls of vernacular buildings are usually very thick up to a maximum of 750 mm with double layer of laterite masonry with a gap in between that is filled with fine sand. This makes the external wall highly insulative. The roofs are sloping and in some cases at two levels - one provided over the verandah and other covering the rest of the rooms. Inorder to achieve thermal insulation, wooden ceiling (tattu) is also provided beneath the roof. This provides a large air space, which acts as an insulation layer against the conduction of external heat through the roof. The air space above the wooden false ceiling is well ventilated with openings (jalli) on both sides to permit maximum cross ventilation. The breathing space between the clay tiles that is used for roofing further helps in ventilating the under side of the roof reducing the temperature. Penetration of water to the interiors through the roof due to rain is prevented by pitched roofs protected with impervious materials like burnt roofing tiles, thatch etc. Dampness is eliminated by building on elevated lands with high plinths. Experimental Investigation An investigation using quantitative recording of climatic parameters was carried out in a traditional residential building (around 250 years of old) at Nilambur in the Malappuram district of the northern part of Kerala. The courtyard of the building has an inward looking verandah of 1m width. The two sides of the courtyard are semi open spaces used for living and prayer. The other two sides are adjoined with rooms having windows opening to the courtyard. A custom made instrumentation set up called Architectural Evaluation System (AES), which is a combination of electronic

Fig. 2: Data logger and memory module of the AES installed in the traditional house

Fig. 3: Indoor wind velocity sensor (bottom), Temperature and Humidity sensors (top)

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271



Fig. 5: Outdoor wind velocity sensor Results While a diurnal variation of 17o C (18o C to 35o C) was observed in the outdoor temperature, a diurnal variation of just about 4o C (24 o C to 28o C) was observed in the simultaneous indoor temperature (Fig. 6). The temperature recorded inside the room is found to be lower than that of semi open space around the courtyard. It is observed that the indoor air temperature is maintained around 24 o C during night even when the outdoor temperature is as low as 18o C. From the figure 6 it is evident that there is no time lag between the temperature outdoor and indoor. The indoor relative humidity varies from 45% to 90% and it is inversely proportional to the air temperature. The wind flow through the courtyard is almost continuous and consistent irrespective of the outside wind velocity. The figures 7 and 8 show the indoor and outdoor wind velocity when the outside wind velocity is very high and low.

Fig. 4: Outdoor temperature sensor

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271


The passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular residential architecture: An experimental investigation on wind flow and thermal comfort Fig. 6: Air Temperature and Relative Humidity vs. Time

Fig. 7: Wind Velocity vs. Time (when outdoor wind velocity is high)

Fig. 8: Wind Velocity vs. Time (when outdoor wind velocity is low) Discussion The low diurnal variation of the indoor temperature proves the high thermal insulation property of the building envelope. The absence of time lag between outdoor and indoor temperatures is mainly due to the continuous air flow through the building. The air flow inside the building is maintained throughout (figures 7 and 8). This allows a convective heat exchange from outdoor to indoor. That is, when outdoor is very hot, those heat scalars are only transmitted into indoor by wind, which reduces the intensity of heat.

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271

DILI A. S, NASEER M. A, and ZACHARIA VARGHESE. T Figure 6 shows that during day time when the indoor temperature is high up to 28o C, the humidity is as low as 45%. This falls well within the comfort zone of the bioclimatic chart (fig. 9) constructed by V. Olgyay (Koenigsberger, et al, 1975). This provides a very comfortable indoor environment. During night, since temperature becomes low up to 24o C, the increase in humidity (up to 88%) does not really affect the indoor comfort condition. There is a very common saying that the main reason for the traditional buildings to keep cool when outside is hot is due to the maximum ventilation. In fact, maximum ventilation may bring more heat into the room and destroys the indoor thermal environment (Lin Borong, et. al., 2004). From the figures 7 and 8 it is evident that the passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular architecture really control and reduces the wind velocity inside the building in order to maintain its comfort level better. Conclusion Control of the indoor environment is always an important aspect of vernacular


architecture. The presence of highly insulative building envelop for thermal protection, provision of verandahs for protection of external walls from solar radiation and the pitched roof for protection from heavy rain together are highly effective for a passive environment control system in Kerala vernacular residential architecture. The setting of building in the open land with judicious arrangement of living spaces around a courtyard with optimum size window openings is according to the requirement of wind for giving comfort in the humid climate.

Fig. 9: Bioclimatic Chart (Koenigsberger, et al, 1975)

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271


The passive environment control system of Kerala vernacular residential architecture: An experimental investigation on wind flow and thermal comfort

Acknowledgements The authors extend sincere gratitude to Mr. Ravi Varma of Nilamboor Kovilakam for his kind co operation for the conduct of the investigation. The authors also extend sincere gratitude to Dr. Ziaudeen, Principal, TKM College of Engineering for providing the equipment for this research. Mr. Sreejith T. S., Production Executive of EMCON, is also acknowledged by the authors for the supply and service of the equipment Architectural Evaluation System. References [1] A. Achyuthan, Balagopal T S Prabhu, An Engineering Commentary on Manusyalayacandrika of Tirumangalat Nilakantan musat, Vastuvidyapratisthanam, Calicut, Kerala, 1998. [2] Do-Kyoung Kim, The natural environment control system of Korean traditional architecture: Comparison with Korean contemporary architecture, Building and Environment, 2006, 41, 19051912. [3] D. Vyas, Traditional Indian architecture The future solar buildings, International Conference on Passive and Low Energy Cooling for the Built Environment, Santorini, Greece, May 2005. [4] Koenigsberger, et al, Manual of tropical Housing and building Climatic design, Orient Longman Private Limited, 1975. [5] Krishnan, A., et al.,. Climate Responsive Architecture- A design handbook for energy efficient buildings. New Delhi:Tata Mcgraw Hill Publishing Co. Ltd., 2001. [6] Kyung-Hoi Lee, Dong-Wook Han, HoJin Lim, Passive design principles and techniques for folk houses in Cheju Island and Ull ng Island of Korea, Energy and Buildings 23 (1996) 207216 [7] Lekha S Hegde, K S Ananthakrishna, Indoor Temperature in Vernacular, Conventional and Alternative Technology Construction A Comparative Investigation, The Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, 2008, 16 18. [8] Lin Borong, et. al., 2004, Study on the thermal performance of the Chinese traditional vernacular dwellings in Summer, Energy and Buildings, vol. 36, pp.7379. [9] Sunil Edward, Dona Kurian, Thermal Performance of Traditional Buildings in Kerala, The Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, 2008, 7 8. [10] Youngryel Ryu, Seogcheol Kim, Dowon Lee, The influence of wind flows on thermal comfort in the Daechung of a traditional Korean house, Building and Environment, 2009, 44, 1826.

International Journal of Earth Sciences and Engineering ISSN 0974-5904, Vol. 02, No. 03, July 2009, pp. 264-271