Termites serve as inspiration for building HVAC


July 16, 2019

Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White, pmimages@earthlink.net

Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White, pmimages@earthlink.net

It’s a hot one out there. Do you have a strategy to cool off?

Termites might have the answer to better-designed heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. These insects might be able to teach us about cooling our buildings and office spaces while using less energy, according to an article in the New York Times.

An architect in Zimbabwe was inspired by mounds built by termites he watched on a TV show about nature. By circulating hot and cool air from the mound and outside, the termites created their own type of air-conditioning system.

Now, a recent study published in the journal Science Advances shares research that uses high-resolution scanning technology to examine African termite nests.

The research team included authors from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham in London, as well as the Université de Toulouse in France.

The team found a network of connected pores that help regulate the termite mound and nest. The smart ventilation helps regulate humidity and possibly temperature. The pores also help with rainwater drainage to maintain the stability of the mound.

Termites are the true designers: “These self-sustaining temperature and ventilation properties have been a key motivation for designing eco-friendly buildings,” the report’s introduction said.

With nearly 2,600 species of termites, only about two dozen infest and destroy buildings. That is where pest management professionals (PMPs) come in. And as PMPs know, termites need carbon dioxide to exit their nest and survive. The mounds termites build above nests are what make this ventilation happen, according to the New York Times article.

Dr. Scott Turner, a physiologist and professor at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, was not involved in the study but was interviewed for analysis. “If you look at the physics of gas exchange in the lung,” he explained, “it’s very much the same way as the termite mound is organized.”

Although this ventilation may help with the temperature regulation, more research is needed. In other termite nests, soil is a temperature regulator, Dr. Turner said.

About the Author

Photo courtesy of Danielle Pesta

Danielle Pesta is the senior digital media manager at North Coast Media, the parent company of PMP magazine. She can be reached at dpesta@northcoastmedia.net.

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  1. john alam says:

    TERMITES are wood killer its necessary to protect your home furniture with termites thanks for sharing article on this