I remember the first summer I moved away from my original desert-like hometown when I came to the “big university.” The humidity level was higher than I had ever experienced and I remember feeling miserable as I tried to adjust to the humid heat. Whether a humid summer or a dry summer is typical of where you live and work, summer can be a time of trying to escape the sun and its effects. Creating cooling interiors is the perfect solution for many reasons. Here we will explore physical, psychological or emotional, social, ecological and financial advantages to cooling interiors and how to achieve them.
There is little question that we live in a civilized society that prefers comfort over discomfort. We enjoy central air conditioning in most interiors.
In places where dryness is the norm, an evaporative cooler is an economical alternative to electric- or gas-powered central air pumped throughout the interior or heat pumps that do the same as a furnace/air conditioner. The evaporative cooler works on the principle of water pumped into fibrous pads through which a fan blows air. Wherever cool air is desired, an opening in the door or window draws the air into that room. Window-mounted air conditioning or evaporative units also are helpful for small areas and can make the difference between feeling comfortable and sweltering.
It is interesting to note that throughout Europe, very little mechanical air conditioning is used, even today. When a hot spell descends, there are sometimes deaths from the heat because they are generally unprepared for it. In America, air conditioning is taken for granted. We want to stay comfortable so we can continue to work and go about our daily tasks. We don’t want to be slowed down with heat-related misery. Heat creates a lethargic effect, unacceptable to so many productive, driven Americans.
Ways to stay cool physically are important to our well-being, as illness can result from overheating the body. Besides cooling the temperature through air conditioning, there are interior design materials and techniques that cool down an interior physically. One is the use of cool-to-the-touch materials. This can be smooth floors of stone, tile, brick or other hard materials including wood and laminate.
Area rugs also can be cooling. The contrast between softness and hardness is a physical dimension that is cooling. In the winter, wall-to-wall carpet as insulation underfoot is preferred. In the summer, cooling hard materials interspersed with softness underfoot has tremendous bearing on the body’s ability to cool down. If there is opportunity to go barefoot on these materials, so much the better—although for some people walking barefoot on hard floors is physically hard on the body and can result in aching joints and muscles.
Physically cooling the interior also can be handled effectively at the window. Ideally, sunlight should be kept from striking—and thus heating—the glass through shade from broad overhanging architectural devices (awnings, eaves, pergola or latticework, for example) or by trees or foliage. This is only possible, however, on some windows in some homes or buildings. Thus, we look to interior shading devices to cool the interior. As a foundation layer, window film can decrease heat by substantial amounts, depending on the product selected for installation. Next, an alternative window treatment that can reflect, screen or direct light is a good choice. Even better is a third layer of fabric with its insulating properties to catch and hold the heat between window covering layers.
PSYCHOLOGICAL OR EMOTIONAL COOLNESS
Shaded interiors are not only physically cooling, but also are easier on the eyes, another physical/psychological advantage. Window coverings that cut the glare that often accompanies too much bright sunlight produce a psychologically cooling effect. A clear, open view always feels cooler than glare.
Where window treatments are light in color (such as white or off-white shades, blinds and shutters) there are times to use them alone and times to use them as a layer. Alone is good when no direct sunlight hits the window during the day, dusk and evening hours. A draw drapery, lined, possibly with a blackout fabric is most effective in keeping the interior physically and especially psychologically cooler.
Cool colors are found on half of the standard color wheel. Green, blue and violet are considered cool colors whereas red, orange and yellow are warm colors. The relationship of color in nature and the way we feel around these colors is a primary reason for this psychological association. Blues and greens are colors found in nature as sky, mountain, foliage, water and ice. Warm colors remind us of sun, fire and hot desert scenes.
Specifically, cool colors include the families of pale, medium and dark blues; the entire gamut of cool-undertone greens including the teal group; lavender and other violet hues. With violets, however, there should be an emphasis on the lighter side. Darker violets, which although are cool generally, are also somewhat suppressive and serious in nature and therefore less cooling. Pale pink and light coral also may be cool and, almost ironically, very pale yellow. These color are more cooling when contrasted with large amounts of white or light, off-white neutrals.
Generally, the lighter the value, the cooler the room, as high value—or lightness of hue—visually expands space. Therefore, lighter hues, especially when using the cool colors, trimmed with white are universally cooler interiors.
Other psychological or emotional factors include the brightness of the room. Cooler rooms have less sunlight, often accomplished using window treatments that shade or screen direct light or offer textural variations. Generally, treatments at the window are light in color, but products such as woven woods or darker, cool-colored draperies also are emotionally cooling. Often, using fabric with a coarse or irregular texture is a component in reducing solar heat.
Patterns may contribute to cooling effects. Water themes in textiles are cooling. Nature scenes often are cooling. Less defined floral patterns are cooling. Themes with water wildlife—say, fish, turtles and seashells—suggest water-based vacation activities such as snorkeling or scuba diving. Motifs of mountains, lakes, streams or rivers and sky and cloud motifs may be psychologically cooling. Anything with icy or cold motifs is effective, also. If customers had experiences where they were comfortably cool, then any texture, pattern or color scheme that reminds them of that time and place will psychologically comfort and cool their spaces. If a pattern offers scenery that takes the customer away, stirs memories or visually expands the space, it can be a good tool to create coolness.
Cool colors are not usually considered welcoming and socially engaging colors. Yet, summer heat often relaxes us and makes us want to just sit and visit. Therefore, encouraging socialization can be done through the use of neutral colors in the background and accent colors that have some life and vitality scattered throughout. Good active accent colors would include a bright aquamarine, navy or cobalt blue and white combination, hot pink, brilliant orange, warm coral, sunshine yellow—colors that suggest a vacation in a tropical location like the Bahamas, Mexico or Hawaii, for example. Softer or lighter colors that relax the occupants will assist in socialization. Patterns that have an ethereal, watercolor quality or patterns that simply help people feel happy will encourage better socialization.
Though it might be hard for some to admit to the need for R & R, everyone really does need relaxation and time alone, particularly in the high-stress careers so many people experience. So there are times in the summer when being anti-social actually is a personal goal. Summer may be a time to avoid other people, to introspect and to cool down alone. This can be accomplished by creating interiors where a person can escape to a quite, serene, comfortable and soothing place to rest, recuperate and have some quality downtime.
ECOLOGICAL AND FINANCIAL COOLNESS
Concerns over the greenhouse effect and energy efficiency are motivators for many customers in selecting interior design products. Uppermost in their minds might be enhancing coolness while reducing energy consumption. It is most helpful for them to be informed which window coverings have higher insulating properties. To an extent, all window coverings offer some insulation. Shutters, cellular shades and solar fabrics limit heat gain in the summer and increase heat retention in the winter, which can help lower air conditioning and heating bills. Window film alone has been reported to reduce air conditioning costs by as much as 30 to 40 percent. Window film and other products also have health benefits for homeowners by blocking UV rays.
Many alternative window coverings list energy savings in the sample books or in the brochures. A professional who can utilize this information during the sales presentation will have an advantage that may close the sale.
In saving energy through carefully selected window coverings, there are two other ways a customer can keep financially cool. One is that the window treatment product will eventually pay for itself. Naturally, the greater the insulating properties are, the faster the return on the initial investment. The second way that customers keep financially cool is through reduced energy cooling bills. This means that an efficient product will save money and is evidence that, as Benjamin Franklin stated, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Many pennies saved do add up, and the result is a happier person living or working in a more pleasant environment.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.