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Ancient Windcatchers Could Replace Air-Con

Tall chimney catches breeze, channelling it into the building, displacing warm air that is then expelled through a windcatcher. It's an ingenious solution that may have been around for thousands of years.

Windcatchers in Yazd, Iran
Windcatchers in Yazd, Iran | Unsplash

Electricity consumption rises with the temperature as people turn on their air-conditioners - none more so than now, as global temperatures are reaching an all time high. But not necessarily so in Iran where many homes are still built with a simple but effective cooling device known as a windcatcher, which requires no electricity.

A windcatcher looks like a tall, decorative chimney (you can see several on display in the photograph), usually with two or more open sides. It catches the breeze that blows well above ground level and channels it down into the house below. This displaces warm air that is expelled through the opposite face of the windcatcher. In some designs the incoming air blows over water, providing further cooling. Studies show that this simple design can reduce the temperature inside a building by 8C (46F) to 12C (54F).

Modern windcatcher system for cooling buildings
Modern interpretation | Credit: Monodraught

Even in the complete absence of wind, a windcatcher acts as a solar chimney: warm air rises through it, drawing down cooler air into the building from the other side.

Nobody knows how far back windcatchers date. Ancient Egyptian art depicts what might be windcatchers from more than 3,000 years ago.

Architects are now investigating how to bring this ancient cooling solution into the 21st century by redesigning them with computer-aided tools for maximum environmentally friendly cooling and ventilation.


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