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Improving the Built Environment of Urban Poor to Achieve Thermal Comfort

This project is reviving ancient traditions to promote simple technologies in modern construction for creating cooler indoor spaces. “Improving the built environment of urban poor to achieve thermal comfort” works with government partners to mainstream cool roofing and passive ventilation in city buildings. The initiative improves living and working conditions for urban poor while reducing use of energy on cooling.

Fast facts:

  • Aim for cooling technologies to be integrated in 1.5 million new houses
  • Reduction of energy needed for cooling would reduce 5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year

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The problem

In poor settlements and slums resulting from India’s rapid urban expansion, houses are densely clustered and have mostly tin sheet, asbestos or thin concrete roofs without sufficient ventilation. This makes it extremely hot inside in warm months, especially in sultry regions.

Persistent heat exposure has numerous negative health effects, and can aggravate chronic disease. Heat also increases ground-level ozone concentrations, which is directly linked to respiratory disease. High indoor temperatures lead to increased demand for electricity, and thus use of more fossil fuels for cooling. The urban heat island effect has also contributed to larger scale temperature increases in such cities.

The solution

This project is promoting simple technologies to reduce indoor temperatures. Whitewashing, for example, can reduce indoor temperatures by 2 to 5 °Celsius, resulting in significantly less cooling required. Passive ventilation systems rely on the differing pressure and buoyancy of warm air to push it out of a building. This is the concept behind traditional Iranian wind catcher towers or groundwater tunnels – which can be revived in modern urban architecture.

The initiative targets the 20 to 40 per cent of population living in poor areas of India’s cities Indore and Surat, and includes a national competition to tap traditional and modern methods for cooling buildings. The effort will also train masons and implement cool roofing at demonstration sites in both cities, and will be accompanied by an awareness campaign. Finally, this project will try to integrate cool roofing technologies into governmental urban renewal housing schemes for the poor.

Helping the planet

Reducing indoor temperatures will decrease demand for air conditioning and fans, lowering energy use and thus dependency on fossil fuel. Passive ventilation and cool roofs also decrease air pollution and can help ameliorate the urban heat island effect.

Helping people

People in poor neighborhoods with cool roofing will enjoy more comfortable indoor temperatures. This improves their quality of life and health. Lower-income workers in offices, factories, and commercial buildings will also benefit from the technologies. Working under more comfortable temperatures could also increase their productivity, enhancing their ability to make money.

Spillover effect

This project will set up replicable models as well as establish valuable lessons, enabling potential growth in other cities across India. If integrated into government housing schemes, the cooling efforts could be implemented at a regional scale.

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