Vernacular architecture and bioclimatic housing

How to take inspiration from the past for improving our way to build ?

What is the vernacular architecture ?

The vernacular housing is a type of housing with characteristics which are inherent to a land and its inhabitants. Actually, the word “vernacular” derives from the Latin meaning “local”. Before the mid-20th century, people were used to adapt their way-of-life to their climate. They found technical solutions to increase their comfort, particularly their thermal comfort. 3 key concepts were applied to determine characteristics from the vernacular architecture: the place of housing, materials, technical ways to build. So vernacular architecture is a traditional architecture closely adapted for the local climate conditions with the best traditional materials available.

1280px-Fourneau_St-Michel_-_Chaumière_(Malvoisin)_1An example of a European type of vernacular architecture

The link between traditional and bioclimatic housing

After the mid-20th century, the cost of energy was cheap and energetic consumptions was not such a problematic issue. At this time, some energy-consuming materials, such as cinder blocks, were mostly used in the construction field. Traditional technics have been forgotten due to new technic in construction. Nowadays, we could observe a standardisation of the ways to build. But, in building science to decrease the environmental impact of the buildings, research has been made to take advantage mostly of the climate. The study of the traditional technic might show how to give the necessary comfort for the user by making the best use of the local environment features.

Bioclimatic housing consists in making a good use of the favourable climatic conditions by protecting the house from the negative effects. This should lead to a thermal comfort. When it’s cold, you will look for free heat gains – such as the sun beam – and a decrease of the heat losses. When it’s hot, you will look for maintaining fresh air in the house. A bioclimatic housing is a building in which you take advantage of : the solar beam and the natural air circulation. Here is the link with the vernacular architecture. For instance, materials such stone (often used in traditional housing) have a very good thermal inertia – they have a great capacity to catch heat of the sun and they are able to give it back.

Use of such concepts in nowadays houses

To take inspiration from the vernacular architecture, bioclimatic housing can have the following features:

  • “Buffer spaces”, spaces that store up energy in the south and insulate in the north,
  • A relevant use of plants for the facade to protect the house from cold wind for instance,
  • A control of the solar input thanks to optimal sizes of windows,
  • An important insulation and inertia due to good materials.

Let’s talk about an example of using vernacular architecture in bioclimatic housing: the thatched or straw roofs. We can find such vernacular architecture in France or England, some of the roofs there are over 600 years old. Thatch is an interesting material for building science because of the following characteristics:

  • A highly effective weatherproof coating,
  • A locally grown material, it implies a low impact on the environment,
  • Recycling is really easy, you just need to return it to the land,
  • A great insulating value (thermal as well as acoustic).

Thatched_Roof_Inside_ViewAn example of a thatched roof

For information, a comparison of thatched material with glass wool:

  • Thermal conductivity – 5.7 m2.K/W for a 32cm coating of thatched and 5.0 m2.K/W for a 20cm coating of glass wool.
  • Thermal inertia capacity – 12/13 hours for a 32 cm coating of thatched and 6 hours for a 20cm coating of glass wool.

And if you are interested in, here is a link to know more about insulated thatched roofs…


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