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Surviving the Isaan summer, air-con free

It gets hot in north-eastern Thailand. Really hot. Especially in April, usually the peak of high season.

Average days hit 36 C, and it rarely goes below 24 C. In years gone past we’ve sat in the village, scared to move an inch because of the heat, waiting in vain for a breath of fresh air. The wind does pass through occasionally, but it’s just moving very hot air from once place to another. It’s not designed to give respite.

But we designed and built a house without air-conditioning. Why? Would be a fair question.

It’s fair to say people we tell who’ve been in Thailand in hot season, either visiting, or living in Bangkok, thing we are off our head. Bangkokians in particular seem totally dependent on their fix of cool air. But even when we lived in the city we rarely used air-con. Perhaps to cool down a bedroom before sleep, but rarely during the day. We’d been lucky enough to find good apartments that were shaded from direct sun, and were open enough to let the air flow. When we thought about house design we wanted to do something similar.

We’ve had to sit tight and wait since moving in last July to see if we could get through a hot season without air, and so far, I think we’ve done pretty well.

First off, it’s fair to say that this hot season has been odd. In the first week of April night time temperatures dipped to a chilly 16 C, and days haven’t hit the consistent highs we usually see, but it’s still been hot. Today it’ll get as high as 34 C, but we’ll still be able to sit on the balcony, or even inside, and stay comfortably cool.

I put it down to a few things: big windows, shaded balconies, and east-west positioning of the house all contribute to keeping our place bright, letting lots of air in, and avoiding direct sunlight hitting windows. Big ceiling fans inside and outside have also done their job.

Dudley has his own way to cool off.

Building in the fields with plenty of open space has also meant lots more air passes through. So what can be scary during storms, works to our advantage when it’s hot. In future years the trees we have planted around the house will also help keep the sun off, and keep a bit more moisture surrounding us.

Differently from Bangkok, and even the village to an extent, the lack of buildings around us means no hot air is ‘trapped’ in the surrounding environment, and that means things cool down quickly when the sun goes down, leaving our evenings and mornings reasonably chilled. In fact, last week it got so chilled we slept without a fan, and needed a duvet to keep warm.

All in all, it’s really surprised us how well we’ve coped without air-con and there’s never been any need for us to think we’ve made a mistake. Sure, there have been some days where it’s been a bit hot and it makes you a bit sleepy, but a quick cold shower freshens you up and sets you up for the rest of the day. And of course, planning work around the land means you can count out the middle of the day to get much done outside, but with a bit of thought and common sense, living in 35 C+ degree heat becomes quite manageable.

The one thing that it has taught me is how to be respectful of your surroundings and by using thinking about your environment it’s possible to work around things to your benefit.

Not having to install air-con has saved us hassle and money, and it stops us burning electricity, but it’s been good to drop any dependency we have outside of our natural surroundings.

We’ve done well so far, but the humid, sticky heat of rainy season may be more challenging. Let’s see how it goes!

We’ll leave you with a few recent photos…

Our first mangoes picked from our trees

Peacock, a resident of the local temple

A pair of lovable troublemakers

Our neighbour, aunt Liang. A more experienced and very fun troublemaker :)

Flowers from our garden

Is that a pond next to our house?

More about that in the next blog!

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