The science of your hot rental home

With thanks to Light House Architecture & Science

There are only three ways to gain or lose heat: radiation, conduction, and convention. Each recipe in this cookbook uses one or more of these mechanisms to help cool you and your house. If you understand the science here, you’ll understand the recipes better, and it will make it easier to adapt them or come up with new techniques. 


Radiation is heat transfer via energy waves, such as solar radiation from the sun. Solid objects absorb some of the energy and get hotter. By limiting the amount of sunlight radiating onto and into the house (particularly the windows but also the walls), you can keep your home cooler. External shading using shade cloth, blinds and plants, and reflective surfaces all work by limiting the amount of radiation coming through the windows. 


Convection is heat transfer through air. For a house, this is mostly due to air moving into and out of the building. When this movement of air is uncontrolled through gaps and cracks, it’s called “leakage” or infiltration. It makes it easier for hot air to enter in summer and escape in winter.

You can reduce leakage by sealing gaps. Commonly gaps are around windows and doors, inside joinery, through old wall vents, and around downlights. Depending on where you live, permanently sealing these gaps may be a job for the landlord, but door snakes and other temporary seals can help too.

You can also use convection to help keep you cool by controlling airflow (we call that ventilation rather than air leakage). Moving air makes you feel cooler even if the temperature stays the same and running the air past a cold object, or using a spray bottle, works even better.


Conduction is heat transfer through solid objects. For example, touching the pavement on a hot day. Insulation is used to slow down the conduction of heat from the outside through the ceiling and walls into or out of the house. Windows also transfer a lot of heat through conduction. Even when radiant energy from the sun is not shining on them heat conducts through them. Double glazing reduces the rate of heat transfer but good curtains, internal window film or some bubble wrap can also do a great job of reducing the rate of heat transfer. Use conduction to keep yourself cooler by using ice packs on you and bubble wrap on your windows.


This article can help you understand the three ways the temperature of your home changes and has links to recipes that help you manage these increasingly dramatic temperatures. Good luck!

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