Compact or Dispersed? Examining the Effectiveness of Low Surface-to-Volume Ratios
In a United Nations 2013 survey tracking World Sustainable Development Challenges, a global ‘one size fits all’ approach to sustainable development was distinguished and precluded from policy frameworks as regional priorities, objectives and paths toward sustainable development were notably diverse. Regional specificity is particularly evident in the formal and spatial disposition of vernacular buildings that respond directly to climate zone characteristics in that area. Today, despite the proven effectiveness of these past approaches, sustainable building guidelines have embraced the belief that buildings are more efficient through the widespread adoption of system building technologies, compact building forms and the subsequent reduction of surface to volume (S/V) ratios. This trajectory relies heavily upon interior building systems and exterior envelope technology, endowing much of a building’s performance to the integrity of these components to ensure thermal comfort. However, in some climates, like temperate profiles with hot and humid summers, this approach may not produce the most energy efficient solutions. To test the validity of this direction, this paper systematically explores two structures in the Southern U.S., a distinctly temperate climate with hot and humid summers, to ascertain whether designing compact structures is an appropriate strategy for energy savings, especially when this approach contradicts lessons offered by vernacular structures built in the same region centuries prior. This comparative analysis examines the Sadler House, a 19th century modified dogtrot located in McCalla, Alabama with a S/V ratio of 0.41 and the LEED Platinum RainShine House, a 21st century house located in Decatur, Georgia with a S/V ratio of 0.24. The results indicate the spatial disposition of the 19th century house outperforms that of its 21st century successor when inheriting the same interior and exterior system characteristics. The outcomes of this analysis reexamine vernacular strategies and stimulate the conversation pertaining to widely accepted sustainable design principles.
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