LOW-COST, LOW ENERGY
HOUSING FOR NORTH FLORIDA
The early test of cyber-history was to see if the results of CATTt analysis in elucidating methods could in turn be used to produce new methods to address a contemporary issue or solve a problem. I had for several years been searching for a solution for how to design low energy housing for my local environment in North Central Florida that would also be low cost. North Central Florida is very hot and humid for most of the year, with the hottest months also experiencing little wind, making it difficult to remain comfortable in interior spaces without extensive use of HVAC systems. The typical solution is something I call the Total Recall strategy, named after the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film version of the Philip K Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, depicting a human colony living on Mars through the use of a complete separation of interior inhabitable spaces from the poisonous atmosphere outside. In the southern US, we insulate to isolate the interior from the exterior as completely as possible, then pump the interior full of energy in the form of cold (or warm) air to produce a favorable environment. This strategy has only been available to the general public for home use since the 1960s, when HVAC technologies and products became inexpensive enough for inclusion in the average single family home.
Before the 1960s, anyone attempting to be comfortable indoors in the south had to use the opposite strategy: open the interior as much as possible to the exterior through operable and porous assemblies to catch any available cross winds. Some vernacular building types also featured a “hot tin roof” and a crawlspace to create displacement ventilation: the metal roof heats rapidly in the sun, in turn heating the air in the space directly underneath; a vent at the peak of the roof allows the rising hot air to escape, creating a vacuum inside the building; shaded, cooler air from the crawlspace under the house is sucked upward through a highly porous wood floor, effectively producing a cool breeze inside the house even in the complete absence of natural wind currents outside. A famous example of these traditional techniques used to construct housing in Florida is the Florida Cracker House, named after the English and American settlers who came to the area after Spain traded it to Great Britain.
The design problem emerges from the mutually exclusive nature of traditional cracker techniques (emphasizing porosity) and contemporary environmental technologies (requiring insulation): can a building successfully utilize both energy strategies? If a design method could use both strategies, then the benefits of both inexpensive passive systems and the easy comfort and humidity mitigation of efficient HVAC systems could be obtained. Also, once formulated, how could such a method be effectively propagated to reach practitioners and the general public so that they might use it for production? Answering these questions was an opportunity to test cyber-history techniques.