In four-season countries, homes usually need electricity to power both heating and cooling systems, depending on the time of year. But in the tropics, particularly in the Philippines, where the warm months of the year far outnumber the wet months and cool nights only come around as the calendar approaches December, energy-efficient design focuses more on managing heat year-round and maximizing natural cooling tips and technologies.

Energy-efficient design doesn’t have to be expensive or sophisticated. Simply designing your house or office to match your climate is one of the best ways you can cut down on electricity costs (and your carbon footprint!) in the long run. Imagine foregoing artificial lighting during the day in favor of sunlight? Or cutting down on air conditioning during the “ber” months? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when designing for energy efficiency.

  1. Mind your orientation.

Before building a house, check which sides of your lot face north, south, east, and west. One of the biggest (and most easily avoidable) mistakes you can make when designing a tropical home is not paying attention to direction. Because of the sun’s movement throughout the day, the west and the south are typically much hotter than the north and the east. To work with nature instead of against it, try to make most of your windows face the north and the east. This simple tweak can keep your home from turning into a furnace during the hottest hours of the day – typically noon to 4:00PM.

  1. Incorporate functional tropical design features.

With the sun shining for almost the entire year, tropical homes must incorporate design elements that make this work to the homeowners’ advantage. Large windows oriented to the north and east can maximize natural lighting during the day, while large, overhanging eaves situated above them can help shade the windows and keep the rooms from getting too hot. Leaving a space between the property wall and your home, as well as pockets of space in strategic places throughout the house, can also give the wind a natural passageway, improving the ventilation and air flow.

  1. Insulate your roof.

Tropical houses can better control the heat from the sun when they have additional roof insulation. There are many types of roof insulation systems, but the reflective system is very popular in Southeast Asia. In a nutshell, this involves installing a layer of thick aluminum foil-like material directly beneath the roof. This blanket reflects the heat from the sun, driving it away from the house. An insulated ceiling can provide another layer of protection from the harsh heat of the sun, especially in the summer months.

  1. Choose lighter colors.

Dark colors absorb light and heat, while lighter colors reflect light and heat. Just following this simple rule can help you design a home or office that not only looks good – but is highly functional all year round. Aside from keeping away from dark walls and fabrics, painting your roof a light color could also do wonders for cooling your home.

  1. Make use of landscaping.

Cooperating with your climate should come hand-in-hand with working with – not against – your natural terrain and topography, and making good use of the plants and trees native to your country. Gardens, in particular, especially when designed well and strategically placed, can provide more than just aesthetic value to a home. The right plants and trees can help keep light flooding under control during the rainy season, and provide additional shade during the summer. Landscaping can also be used to direct breezes, control glare, and regulate sound and air pollution.