Ecological, energy and cash-saving home system.jpg

Ecological, energy and cash-saving home system

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Ever wondered how the Romans kept their villas comfortably warm without electricity or complicated central heating?

Interior temperature has as much to do with where, how and with what materials a house is built as other factors such as climate and humidity.

You don’t need complicated oil or gas-fired central heating systems in Portugal to maintain a pleasant average temperature of 25º.

A pioneering project using low-technology and, in some cases, ancient ideas to reduce energy consumption and keep properties at a comfortable all-year-round temperature has been developed for the Elixir Group at its AlmaVerde Village & Spa, located 10km west of Lagos at Burgau.

AlmaVerde has employed top green architect and low energy and carbon emissions expert Jes Mainwaring in the project who has been involved in energy efficient, environmentally friendly architecture for 30 years.

“50 per cent of carbon emissions come from buildings: from household appliances, lighting and central heating while up to 15 per cent of total emissions in a building’s lifetime comes from manufacturing and construction processes,” he said.

Maximising comfort

At AlmaVerde Jes Mainwaring has used the Coolhouse Project he helped to develop to reduce domestic air conditioning in Southern Europe and CO2 emissions by up to 94 per cent.

Director of Architecture at AlmaVerde, Jes Mainwaring has designed houses to minimise energy use and maximise comfort through low-technology strategies that use the earth beneath the property as a heat sink to remove external air temperature peaks and troughs.

“The Coolhouse System combines both geothermal cooling systems and building passive design and construction to achieve thermal comfort by passing fresh external air through plastic ground tubes into the building using the relatively constant below-ground temperature of 14ºc in Southern Portugal,” he explained.

Every single aspect of the houses has been designed to be energy efficient and reduce humidity – an essential factor in comfort.

This is supported by other factors such as solar and wind shading, solar panels, roof terrace projections, timber shutters, solar reflective coated glass, north-facing windows, well-insulated roofs, while the adobe inner leaf is tied with stainless steel wall tiles to the outer Tabicesa system of terracotta blocks which ensures breathability through the external insulation.

But the overriding question, of course, is if the entire Coolhouse System costs a fortune?

“We’re seeing a payback in nine years for just the cooling it delivers, without counting any contribution it might make to heating, so whatever you do is worth doing in terms of cost and our sales costs are no more than any other quality development metre for metre,” said Jes Mainwaring.

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