Philippine concrete block houses, the good the bad and the ugly. The typical Philippine house is a metal-roofed concrete box exposed to the blistering tropical sun. The heat absorbed by the thermal mass of the building ensures that the house is uncomfortable all night. These houses are not too different from the hot boxes prisoners are put in for punishment in movies such as “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. Indoor air temperatures typically reach 90F or more and rarely drop significantly at night.
So why do people build and live in such houses? There are good reasons. They are affordable. Local workers know how to build them. Concrete block house resist most of the many environmental hazards in the Philippines. They can be cleaned up and re-inhabited after being flooded, they resist typhoons, insects don’t eat them, they are fire resistant and keep out intruders. Basically these buildings are sand and gravel reinforced with a little (sometimes too little) cement and steel.
Of course air conditioning can help make life in the concrete house tolerable, but energy costs in the Philippines are very high. There are ways to help keep concrete houses cooler. Light colored roofs reflect rather than transmit the heat. Insulation and reflective foil also can help. Shading the building so that it is not exposed to direct sunlight is very important. This can be done with trees and other plantings and/or can be done with architectural details such as louvers and awnings. We will outline some of those measures in another article.
How about a radically different approach? Friends of ours who live in Baja California in Mexico saw a house going up which used a concrete foundation a steel framework insulated with thick Styrofoam panels. This part of Mexico is similar in many respects to the Philippines. Below we present a series of photos of the construction of the house. We don’t have many details but we know that many persons building in the Philippines want to avoid the typical concrete block construction and are willing to investigate alternatives. Hopefully these photos will provide some inspiration. Unfortunately, we can’t provide more detail except to say that the house was finished, inside and out with parge or stucco, perhaps a sprayed concrete material.