Monday, January 12, 2009

Planning Ahead in Design

Hot Sun, Paper Windowshades
In the NPH Nicaragua Construction Department (a room approximately 10'x10') we recycle old plans as window coverings.

The NPH Nicaragua office was built about 10 years ago like a concrete bunker when the mentality was to build cheap and quick. The windows in all but the front offices are tiny and the concrete block walls are thick enough to hold and transmit heat, but not insulate from it.

Cool breezes in this semi tropical clime are precious. So it's important to design buildings to capture natural cooling in whatever way possible.

Traditionally, Nicaraguan homes are very open to the air. Windows are generally covered with metal bars for security, but often nothing else, especially in rural areas. And roofs are generally zinc set on top of concrete walls, where every wave in the zinc leaves an open space for air to pass through.

The homes on the new property have been designed as well as sited specifically to take advantage of consistent easterly breeze and natural lighting (without the heat of a lot of direct sunlight).

But due to the financial crises happening in the US and Europe, all NPH countries have been instructed to cut their 2009 operating budgets by 30%. The preparation started at the beginning of December with NPH no longer providing lunch for their workers and continues with a round of layoffs to happen this week.

Even though we're not part of the operational budget, this has impacted us as well on the construction of the new homes. Not because we don't have money, we have many very generous donors and nearly a half million in the bank (with additional funds currently being promised). But because over the last several months the emphasis that we have been receiving has changed from 'what's the best long term plan' to 'how can we save money in construction right now because we don't know when the money will stop'.

A different design for the home has been proposed and strongly recommended by NPHI, and while not a bad design in general, it will cut down on natural lighting and ventilation causing an increase in electricity usage for lighting and fans.

In the meantime, here in Nicaragua we were also working on revising the plans of the houses previously built to lower costs, but keeping the core values the same.

The problem is that our house design is approximately $3,000 more expensive than the other (approximately $58,000 to $55,000), so I'm not sure what will be the final decision.

Marlon (the National Director) returns from his holiday vacation in Honduras this week, so hopefully he'll have time to make a decision soon.

And hopefully, this time, the decision for natural ventilation and lighting will be seen as a long term value and not just an upfront cost.

In the meantime I'll sit here sweating in front of my computer hoping for a breeze!

1 comment:

Rathna said...

I've also come across Nicaraguan homes which are famous for its very open to the air model.My wishes for you to have a best model with full ventilation as you would enjoy cool brezee while sitting in fornt computer.