Cupolas serve to increase air circulation and interior lighting. They increase air circulation through a very basic process – warm air rises, so adding a pathway at the roof for that air to escape then creates upward airflow through the structure, pulling in cooler ground floor air. This process is also known as the Stack Effect. This airflow can also be created or enhanced with a whole house fan, but a cupola alone will create this airflow as a passive feature. Even without a breeze outside or a motorized fan, this airflow will continue. In winter, if the windows of the cupola close, then this airflow will stop, keeping heat within the structure.
Cupolas also serve other pragmatic functions – the first cupolas were minarets of mosques, from which muezzins called Muslim worshipers to prayer. In barns, they are used to add continuous airflow to haylofts, helping to dry hay. Larger cupolas with windows, such as the kinds found on Italianate buildings, are also known as belvederes or widow’s walks, which is commonly attributed to the wives of mariners who would watch for returning ships from the high vantage point.
Although largely only ornamental in new construction today, for the 200 years between the 1750’s and 1950’s interior and exterior shutters were used commonly to not only protect windows from damage during inclement weather but also for security and to help shield interior areas from direct sunlight while still allowing for air circulation, keeping room temperatures cool in summer. Exterior shutters today have an R-value of between 2.77 to as high as 4.0 – pairing functional exterior shutters with interior shutters or shades will make your home significantly more comfortable.
If reproducing shutters that have been removed from your home for aesthetics or functionality, be sure to research a bit first to find the right size, shape, placement and style that fits best – don’t assume that a standard set from the hardware store work for your home! (If you would like to learn a little more about picking the best shutters for your home, this Instagram account highlights all sorts of examples of well done and not-so well done shutter placements.)
You may be fortunate enough to still have the original shutters for your home and are looking for tips on how to best restore them to their former glory- here are some best practices for shutter restoration projects.
Interested in reproducing or repairing interior shutters for your home? This Old House and Old House Journal both cover the basics to get you started in these two articles.
Awnings, eaves and other shading structures have been used to cool buildings for thousands of years across cultures all around the world. Documents of ancient Egypt and Syria make note of woven mats that shaded market stalls and homes. The Colosseum utilized a retractable awning called a velarium. Structures in Japan commonly extended eaves out over decking, adding a space called the engawa. Italianate-style structures are well known for elaborate brackets that extend eaves much further out than other structures of similar age.
Jutting the edge of a roof out even just a few inches not only pushes rain water away from foundations, but also creates shade, and, if sized correctly for the latitude, will keep the structure much cooler through the summer – when designing or retrofitting a structure for passive heating and cooling, controlling the amount of heat from direct sunlight the structure absorbs during summer and winter is one of the most important steps.
Throughout the US, fabric awnings were very popular in many types of structures up until the wide adoption of air conditioning, at which point the use of awnings shifted in nature, from a primary passive form of cooling to a supportive optional addition, often largely less mobile and made of aluminum, that increased the efficiency and length of life of air conditioners.
Today awnings are available in many different types of styles and fabrics. If considering reinstalling fabric awnings on your home, be sure to consult the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief and similar guides to assess the best style of awning for your home. More guides are linked below.
One of the most pleasant methods for cooling off in the summer without the use of AC is to simply make use of your front, side or back porch.
Our post next week will cover the cooling benefits to the whole house from the shading of surfaces by awnings, eaves and porches, but today we would like to highlight the basic livability improvements a nice porch provides in summer. Historic homes, especially Arts and Crafts and Victorian homes, were often built with not only a front porch, but several porches located in different of the house. A century ago, the ease of access to fresh air that these spaces provide was actually touted as a crucial health tool, and sleeping porches, (i.e., screened-in porches located in more private areas of the home, like the second floor or private side porches) were marketed extensively to homeowners. Lynn Elliott writes about the history and use of sleeping porches in this article from Old House Journal.
In this short Bob Vila Magazine article, author Donna Boyle Schwartz makes the following suggestions for improving porch spaces, especially for sleeping porches:
- Covering. The space should be covered against the elements and for safety, it should have at least a low railing around the perimeter.
- Screens. If you live in an area where bugs abound in summer, it probably goes without saying that screens are essential. Many choose also to integrate fabric shades or awnings, which can be lowered for privacy.
- Water- and fade-resistant fabrics and furnishings. Furnishings should be casual, comfortable, and resistant to the effects of water and sunlight.
- Sleeping arrangements. Since sleeping porches often serve as living areas during the day, fill these spaces with versatile pieces that perform more than one function. Consider a suspended bed doubles as a porch swing or daybed that doubles as deep seating.
- Ceiling fan. After all, the key to a comfortable sleeping porch is air circulation. Shop for a top-rated ceiling fan with our tips.
- Indirect lighting. You’ll get plenty of natural light from the big windows around a sleeping porch, but supplement these with some table lamps or flameless candles.