Thursday, March 27, 2014

The DR Does It Better

By Tim Shotts

The Eco Challenge trip to the Dominican Republic was quite an adventure!  The beautiful culture, the architecture, and the environment were incredible.  The architecture used natural ventilation instead of air-conditioning, long eaves, CMU block, a variety of materials for roofing ranging from thatch to corrugated steel decking, rebar projecting above terraces, and energy efficient lighting. 

Besides the incredibly comfortable weather in the Dominican Republic during mid-March, the price of electricity (at $0.20 per Kilowatt, three to four times that of Carbondale, IL) heavily influences the architecture of the DR.  The long eaves shade from the summer sun and provide a place to sit outside in the shade.  Due to the price of electricity, threat of a blackout, and heat, compact fluorescent lighting was seen everywhere, and a nice pizza restaurant we ate at the last night had LED lighting.  In addition to energy efficient lighting, louvered windows allow adjustments of natural light  ventilation and some security without trapping heat.  Dominican architecture also extensively uses CMU blocks as thermal mass and also for security.  During my visit, I saw one concrete mixing truck and one abandoned drum.  More often we saw stacks of CMU blocks and mortar mixed on-site.  When building houses and masonry walls, rebar would be left exposed for additions.

When we flew into Punta Cana, the first thing I noticed about the airport was the sugarcane-thatched roof, and once inside the open-air terminal, there was a pleasant breeze from the large overhead fans and natural light pouring in from the dormers.  Other places in the country use corrugated metal, composite metal decking, Spanish tile, and cast-in-place concrete.  To remove the rain roofs had a chain of funnels with a scalloped top, and terraces had PVC scuppers.  Most gutters would be made from either a piece of PVC pipe or bamboo cut in half. 

The trip to the DR was an amazing experience.  It showed me that how we build in the States is not so much different than how they build in the Caribbean.  For instance, they lay a piece of bent metal over the corner seam of a roof just like we do.  However, they’re widespread adoption of appropriately sized eaves, energy efficient lighting and natural light, natural ventilation, and forethought of building small with plans for growth put us to shame and I believe it’s the cost of electricity that’s driving their designs.

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