Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Establishment of 'Air House' Standard in Tropical Countries : Part 1


Large migration from rural areas to urban areas like Kuala Lumpur has led to some implications for economic, social and cultural development, such as slum and squatter settlements. This high population has placed enormous demand on the existing housing stocks, especially for low-income groups. The typology of modern housing is proven effective to provide massive numbers of houses that meet the exceeding demand in urban areas. However, some issues arise, one of which is overheated indoor air temperature. This problem contributes to the high-energy usage that forces huge sums of money to be spent on cooling the house by using mechanical equipment such as an air conditioning system. From the study, the carbon emission and energy consumption for an air-conditioned house is 67%, 66% higher than a naturally ventilated house.

Therefore, this research focuses on thermal comfort in social housing, and incorporates traditional values into its design to achieve a certain measurement of natural ventilation in a house. Using three house cases – two traditional Malay houses, and one social house – features such as internal layout, openings on walls and roof design are reviewed and analyzed using environmental software to obtain accurate data of comfort levels and air movement. Based on the analysis, the traditional Malay houses provide a more effective method of air movement through their large opening areas on the perimeter walls and large roofs, compared to social housing. Moreover, spatial arrangements in traditional Malay houses have also preserved high privacy levels for the occupants. 

The main conclusions drawn from this research are that social housing has poor air movement as well as spaces that are functionally insufficient because of their size and location. Therefore, this research has come up with a new typology design, which has a large exposed wall area and full-length openings on the opposite walls to increase cross ventilation. At the end of this research, the measurement of thermal comfort for a naturally ventilated building called ‘Air House’ has been identified. In conjunction with that, several recommendations have been proposed for building regulations in Malaysia to meet the current demands of sustainable living.

Mohd Firrdhaus Mohd Sahabuddin
Co-founder of 'Air House' Standard (2012)


Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia and is one of the fastest developing countries in the world. United Nations calculations have projected a dramatic urban future for this region (Salih 1982). The patterns of urbanization in Southeast Asia’s top cities are expected to increase rapidly.

Kuala Lumpur, as a capital city of a developing nation, plays a significant role in the urbanization and development of the country. The city’s population grew from about 0.32 million in 1957 to almost 1.62 million in 2006 (Mohit, et al., 2010). Based on this situation, Malaysia was expected to require about 709,400 new housing units between 2006 and 2010 (UN-HABITAT, 2011). The other problem that has arisen is the increasing number of squatters and slum areas. Social housing schemes such as People’s Housing Project (PHP) have been one of the approaches undertaken by the government to solve this problem. However, the issue of thermal comfort and space design in social housing is always a hot topic as it is not compatible with the living patterns of Malaysian society.

The low-income population that occupy the majority of social houses cannot afford to install an air-conditioning system in their homes. The system leads towards environmental pollution and energy waste. Therefore, one of the precedent studies is the traditional Malay house that has touted the advantages of maintaining the internal comfort level by natural and passive approaches. These arguments have become the motivating factor towards this study.

In 2009, the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia (ACEM) established Green Building Index (GBI) for evaluating the environmental design and performance of Malaysian buildings based on six criteria: energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, sustainable site planning and management, materials and resources, water efficiency, and innovation. On this factor, this study was conducted to meet the government’s initiative.

The Aims

The main aim of this research is to look for other solutions for achieving the preferred comfort level in social housing by using passive methods. As a tropical country, Malaysia experiences high temperatures throughout the year. Any houses built without proper ventilation will result in heat being trapped inside the house. High thermal capacity materials used in house construction exacerbate the situation, especially at night. Therefore, a key factor in maintaining a good thermal level in the house is by channelling the heat immediately. A lot of air movement can allow this process to occur naturally. The climate responsive manifestation of the traditional Malay house by the architectural strategies of floor, wall and roof (Mohd Tahir, et al., 2006) can contribute to good indoor air movement. Thus, this research examines the proportionate forms and openings of the house, and how the findings can be applied in modern housing to achieve a more effective thermal comfort condition.

The aims of this research are to seek the appropriate design methods in social housing that can achieve the right thermal comfort by using passive approaches. Thermal comfort is very important, not only for enhancing the quality of indoor living, but also because it can help to reduce carbon emission and energy consumption. At present, the thermal comfort conditions have been set up for indoor space designed with an air-conditioning system. Therefore, this research tries to find the best description of thermal comfort conditions for a naturally ventilated space that suits Malaysia’s environment and comfort zone.

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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