Monday, October 22, 2012

The Establishment of 'Air House' Standard in Tropical Countries : Final Part

Conclusions and Recommendations


Design Issues


As a conclusion, there are some design issues discovered in traditional Malay houses and social housing (Table 42). According to research, materials that are used in Malay houses are more practical and reliable for releasing heat readily, compared to high thermal capacity materials such as bricks and concrete in social housing. These high thermal materials store heat and cause uncomfortably high temperatures at night.

The unplanned kampong environment does not block the wind; thus the entire neighbourhood receives a good quality of fresh air. Externally, in modern housing large blocks and long terraces create barriers and air pockets, while internally, the complicated wall arrangements in modern housing block air movement, which leads to an uncomfortable thermal condition.

In a traditional Malay house, full-length openings are located at body level, while in modern housing the openings are smaller and only concentrate on the upper part of the body. Therefore, the cross ventilation process often fails in modern housing. Overhangs are important in opening components because they can provide shade for the walls from sun radiation, glare and rainfall. This key element is always neglected in modern housing.

For religious reasons, the orientation of a traditional Malay house normally faces Mecca or an east-to-west direction. This orientation, by coincidence, can reduce the external wall that faces direct sunlight. However, in modern housing, this orientation is not emphasized for profit motives. Moreover, the internal space arrangement in a traditional Malay house uses a front-to-back order where the serambi is the first area, followed by the rumah ibu and dapur. This arrangement preserves the privacy level of a Malay family and contributes to neighbourhood enhancement.


The results of the analysis of Malay houses and People’s Housing Project (PHP 2000) show that the performance of air temperature and relative humidity in both cases were not significantly different. However, for internal and external air ventilation, the traditional Malay houses recorded 1450.3 l/s (1.45m/s) compared to just only 31.7 l/s (0.03m/s) for PHP 2000. The massive amount of air ventilation in Malay houses contributes to a better performance of the house thermally and economically.

The theoretical model has been developed and tested. The model has been improved according to the architectural and construction issues found in an actual PHP 2000. One of the major improvements is the proportionate rule of layout unit. Instead of a long and narrow layout, the theoretical model has a longer and wider layout where the external wall area is longer than PHP 2000; this promotes massive airflow in, out and across the house through the opening components.

Using the results obtained in part 7 and 8, a standard called Air House has been defined. This standard is totally focused on natural ventilation strategies, in which air is designed to flow across the house compound. Meanwhile, in Passivhaus, the design is more about airtightness and isolation of heat within the house compound. The establishment of Air House could perhaps be a new beginning for Malaysian architecture and its tropical region.

The hot temperature and high humidity climate in Malaysia encourages the use of an air conditioning system as the primary option to cool the house. Nowadays, this is the standard practice in Malaysia. An effort should be made to rectify this situation. The theoretical model that has been developed proves that there is a possible way to achieve the right thermal comfort by using passive methods in social housing. Therefore, this study answers the problem posed at the beginning of the study.


Recommendations of Building Regulations in Malaysia

Upon completion of the study, it can be deduced that there is a huge gap between the traditional approach and modern housing. One of the reasons for this situation is the inappropriate regulations and standards being used in Malaysia. Therefore, some improvements and revisions should be made in order to meet the current challenges, as some of the regulations are not compatible with Malaysia’s climate and culture (see Table 43).

In clauses 32, 33, 34 and 35 of UBBL part III (space, light and ventilation), open spaces must be provided in residential building compounds. However, the categories listed are only related to buildings abutting a street, a back lane and a detached building; there is no category relating to linked units abutting a corridor in a multi-storey building. According to the research findings, a common space in front of the main entrance is an important element in building a good, responsible society. Therefore, in theoretical model (TM), foyer space is provided to serve as interaction space as well as storage area. Thus, an improvement that can be compatible with local culture and the basic needs of the people should be made.

Clause 39 (1) states that residential buildings shall be provided with natural lighting and natural ventilation. The openings area is not less than 10% of floor area. For an example that follows the minimum requirement, a living/dining area in TM that has 19.6 square metres will have an area of window opening of less than 2.0 square meters. Based on the research findings, this percentage is too small for an opening to allow air movement. As TM has been proven to provide good air movement, clause 39 (1) should be revised to a new and more suitable percentage of opening area that is compatible with Malaysia’s climate.


In order to achieve thermal comfort through air movement, a large opening at the external and internal wall should be made. Therefore, 15% to 20% of external openings are required on an external wall for achieving suitable amount of air movement. Moreover, an opening at a high level of wall should be placed to allow ventilation and air change processes.

The window openings are suggested to be placed at body level range and must be 15% to 20% of a room’s external wall. For internal partitions, fixed louvers could be placed on the top part of the partition to allow air transfer from room to room.

Moreover, in clause 42 (2), the minimum kitchen area in UBBL is 4.5 square metres and the minimum width is 1.5 metres. This measurement is still small and leads to insufficient space area. Therefore, the kitchen area should be revised to be at least 8.0 square metres and 2.0 metres minimum in width.

Finally, in clause 44 (1), the minimum height of a living room is 2.5 metres, while a kitchen is 2.25 metres. These heights are considered low and less efficient to promote air movement; thus, the minimum of 3.5 metres, as in TM’s design, should be used in this clause.





The Air House concept that focuses on natural ventilation in residential buildings has proven it can reduce 86% of carbon emission and 74.3% of energy consumption compared to standard practice. The Air House concept has brought sustainable design in Malaysia to a new level of achievement; therefore, it should be explored and expanded in greater detail in the future. Among other study areas in Air House that can be further defined are:

• The appropriateness of use of lightweight building materials in the tropics;
• Percentage proportion of openings in accordance with the building height;
• Wind catcher strategies in Air House design to promote cross ventilation; and
• Strategies in preventing sound pollution in Air House design.

Thermal comfort is one of the basic needs. However, in urban areas, thermal comfort becomes more crucial as houses are constructed in multi-level format with compact design. The concept of Air House could perhaps provide a new dimension in the design of comfortable and sustainable housing in the future.

Researched and written by Mohd Firrdhaus Mohd Sahabuddin; co-founder of 'Air House' and this article was a part of his dissertation which titled 'Traditional Values and Their Adaptation in Social Housing Design: Towards A New Typology and Establishment of ‘Air House’ Standard in Malaysia' for MSc. Advanced Sustainable Design in The University of Edinburgh. Copyright 2012. 


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