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Investigation on Indoor Air Temperature Control of Vernacular

Residential Buildings of Kerala in Summer

A S Dili, Non-member
M A Naseer, Member
T Z Varghese, Non-member
The vernacular residential buildings of Kerala are well known for the use of natural and passive methods for
a comfortable indoor environment, especially, the thermal comfort. However, it has not been proved by a
quantitative evaluation method so far. The objective of the investigation was to understand the passive
thermal control system of Kerala vernacular residential buildings in summer. A field study was conducted in
a 300 year old residential building by continuously monitoring the indoor and outdoor air temperature using a
custom made instrument. The result shows that the passive thermal control system of Kerala vernacular
residential buildings is very effective.
Keywords : Vernacular residential building; Indoor environment; Temperature; Summer

INTRODUCTION in the absence of a quantitative analysis, it was essential to

conduct a detailed investigation to assess the thermal
Research on natural and passive environment control systems performance of such buildings, especially in summer. The
in vernacular buildings are underway in the form of continuous authors have devised an instrumentation setup called
evaluation of comfort parameters in various parts of the Architectural Evaluation System (AES) to continuously
world1-3. Kerala vernacular residential buildings, designed record the temperature and other comfort parameters over a
with the principle of climate responsive architecture, have period of time.
started gaining attention amongst the present researchers.
These studies mainly focus on qualitative analysis of the METHODS
relationship between the local climate, the form of building,
materials used and construction techniques4-6. But a Building Description
quantitative study by continuously monitoring the variation
The basic module of a vernacular Kerala house is called
of indoor air temperature vis-à-vis outdoor temperature is so
nalukettu which has four blocks topped with sloping roof,
far not attempted.
built around an open courtyard. They are rectangular or
Extending from 7°N to13°N latitude, Kerala is a strip of land square in plan where the rooms are arranged around the
on the south-west coast of India lying between Arabian Sea courtyard which is open to sky for letting air and light inside
on the West and Western Ghats on the East. Kerala has a the building. There are semi-open spaces as well as rooms
characteristic warm-humid climate because of its geographic arranged in a particular manner around the courtyard as
settings. The presence of high amount of moisture in the shown in the Figure 1.
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 4 6
temperature is closer or higher than the human body
temperature resulting in excessive sweating and fatigue.

In order to keep the occupants comfortable, it is essential

that the buildings provide a conditioned indoor environment,

irrespective of the outdoor climatic conditions. Vernacular 7
residential buildings of Kerala, by virtue of their design and
materials and special methods used for construction,
provides an indoor environment where the air temperature is
maintained within a range that is comfortable for living. But 1
2 4
A S Dili and T Z Varghese are with the Department of Civil
Engineering while M A Naseer is with the Department of
Architecture, National Institute of Technology, Calicut 673 601.
Legend : 1. entrance; 2. semi open space; 3. courtyard; 4. rooms; 5. kitchen;
This paper was received on July 15, 2009. Written discussion on the 6. dining; and 7. religious rites
paper will be entertained till June 30, 2010. Figure 1 A typical Kerala vernacular residential building

Volume 91, April 2010 17

locations — top and bottom), in the semi-open space and
inside a bedroom. Indoor relative humidity as well as outdoor
ambient air temperature were also recorded simultaneously.
The data were recorded at an interval of 15 min with the
windows kept open for unobstructed air movement through
Data logger
the courtyard.


It is observed that the outdoor temperature has an average

Temperature sensor diurnal variation of 12oC, ie, from 26oC to 38oC while the
simultaneous indoor temperature was varying from 28oC to
32oC showing an average diurnal variation of only about 4oC
(Figure 4). The temperature recorded in the room is found to
be lower (around 0.5oC) than that of semi-open space around
the courtyard. No time lag is observed between the outdoor
and indoor temperatures and the decrement factor is 0.28.
Figure 2 Installation of AES in the selected area of Nilambur Average indoor relative humidity varies from 57% (mid-
Kovilakom afternoon) to 95% (early morning) (Figure 5).

The traditional residential building selected for the DISCUSSION

experimental investigation is nearly 300 years old, located The traditional houses of Kerala are generally designed to
at Nilambur (Puthiya Kovilakam) in the Malappuram district deal with high temperature, excess of moisture in the
at the northern part of Kerala. The internal space around the
courtyard of 2 m × 6 m which is surrounded by double
Semi-open Bedroom Courtryard top
storeyed structures was selected for the investigation
Outside ambient Courtyard bottom
(Figure 2). The courtyard has an inward looking verandah of 39
1 m width. Two sides of the courtyard are semi-open spaces 38
used for living and religious rituals. The other two sides are 37
adjoined with rooms having windows opening to the courtyard. 35
Temperature, oC

The custom made instrumentation set-up called Architectural 30
Evaluation System (AES), is a combination of electronic 29
sensors, data logger, memory module and computer interface 27
(Figure 3). This was installed in the building during the 26
summer in 2009 to record the data for the investigation. 24
Sensors were fixed at selected locations in the building. 23
The temperature was recorded within the courtyard (at two 18 00 06 12 18 00 06 12 18 00 06 12 18 00 06 12 18
Time, h
Figure 4 Graph : Temperature against time

Semi-open temperature Bedroom temperature

Outside ambient temperature RH
39 100
37 95
Relative humidity, %

35 90
Temperature, oC

34 85
Power supply unit 33
32 80
30 75
Memory module 29
28 70
27 65
Data logger 26
25 60
23 55
18 00 06 12 18 00 06 12 18 00 06 12 18 00 06 12 18
Time, h
Figure 3 Architectural evaluation system (AES) Figure 5 Graph : Temperature and RH against time

18 IE(I) Journal–AR
atmosphere, intense solar radiation and heavy rainfall. The In fact, judicious use of appropriate materials and adoption
investigation reveals that, the presence of internal courtyard of suitable traditional techniques in architecture is what is
within the living spaces and optimum window openings required for a sustainable, energy efficient and comfortable
provided for a continuous air movement, highly insulative human life.
building envelop for thermal protection, provision of verandahs
for protection of external walls from solar radiation and the ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
pitched roof for protection from heavy rain together contribute
The authors extend sincere gratitude to Mr R Varma of
for a passive environment control system.
Nilamboor Kovilakam for his co-operation in the conduct of
It is evident from the results that the diurnal variation of the the investigation. The authors also extend sincere gratitude
indoor temperature is low irrespective of the outdoor to Dr Ziaudeen, Principal, TKM College of Engineering,
temperature variation and there is no time lag. This is due to Kollam, Kerala for providing necessary help for this research
high thermal capacity of the building envelop and due to the and Mr Sreejith TS, Production Executive of EMCON, Cochin,
continuous air flow maintained through the building. Even Kerala for fabrication of the equipment set-up.
though there is scope for convective heat exchange because
of air movement from outdoor to indoor during day time and
vice-versa during the night, the indoor temperature is 1. Do-Kyoung Kim. ‘The Natural Environment Control System of Korean
maintained within the comfortable range. This is achieved Traditional Architecture : Comparison with Korean Contemporary
Architecture’. Building and Environment, vol 41, 2005, pp 1905-1912.
with the air mass contained within the courtyard.
2. M S Sozen and G Z Gedik. ‘Evaluation of Traditional Architecture in
Figure 5 shows that during day time when the indoor Terms of Building Physics : Old Diyarbakir Houses’. Building and
temperature is high up to 32oC, the humidity is as low as Environment, vol 42, 2007, pp 1810-1816.
57%. This falls near the comfort zone of the bioclimatic chart
3. Y Ryu, S Kim and D Lee. ‘The Influence of Wind Flows on Thermal
of Olgyay7. During night, since the temperature is low (28oC), Comfort in the Daechung of a Traditional Korean House’. Building and
the increase in humidity (95%) does not really affect the Environment, vol 44, 2008, pp 18-26.
indoor comfort condition.
4. D Vyas. ‘Traditional Indian Architecture — the Future Solar Buildings’.
CONCLUSION International Conference on Passive and Low Energy Cooling for the
Built Environment, Santorini, Greece, May 2005.
Control of the indoor environment is always an important 5. L S Hegde and K S Ananthakrishna. ‘Indoor Temperature in Vernacular,
aspect of vernacular architecture. The study reveals that the Conventional and Alternative Technology Construction — A Comparative
methods and techniques adopted in the Kerala vernacular Investigation’. The Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, 2008,
residential buildings are very effective in providing comfortable pp 16 - 18.
indoor living for occupants. These methods and techniques 6. V L Akella. ‘Thermal Performance of Traditional and Modern Buildings
can be appropriately used in the contemporary buildings of in Kerala, South India’. Institute for Tropical Architecture, Prince Claus
warm-humid regions. Fund for Culture and Development, www.arq uitecturatropical.org, 2009.

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