This post is written by Krissy Schwab and comes from our partner site QuickenLoans.com.
At one point you’ve probably driven through a neighborhood and seen a house covered with solar panels on the roof. This type of home, known as an active solar home, simply has the addition of solar panels to the already existing structure.
However, some people are taking advantage of solar energy without solar panels—creating a new style of home construction called passive solar homes. Sunplans.com notes that utilizing the passive solar in-home design can possibly cut energy bills in half.
Passive solar homes are custom planned and built depending on the region and hemisphere you live in. For example, here in the northern hemisphere, the sun in the winter season comes up in the southeast and sits low in the southern sky.
Therefore, to capture the most amounts of sunlight and heat in the winter, you would want to put as many windows as you can on the southern side of your house. Conversely in the summer, the sun rises higher in the sky, so constructing an overhang or porch area on the southern side of your house will block most of the summer sun from heating your house.
What I love about the passive solar style is that there are elements you can incorporate into your existing home if you want to make it more energy efficient. Some of the ideas may cost a bit of money to install; however, they may add value or even living space to your home. Adding any one of these elements can help you utilize the natural sunlight to warm your house even in cool climates.
Add an aperture
Basically, an aperture is an area on the south side of your home that utilizes tons of windows to capture sunlight during the winter—much like how a greenhouse captures and traps sunlight to warm it. You could even add a few skylights to the southern-facing roof of your house to also help capture sunlight for both maximum heating and lighting in your home.
Install a darker, hard masonry or wood floor
Once you have fine-tuned your house to seize the most sunlight it can, you’ll want to make sure the heat from the sun gets trapped in the house. One way to do this is by installing a thick stone or dark wood floor to absorb and retain heat.
Add thermal masses to retain more heat
Many people choose to add thick masonry walls and/or masonry below the flooring to retain even more heat. This is similar to the heat-island effect that occurs in large, metropolitan areas. I’m sure when you’ve watched the weather in the morning, you’ve noticed that cities are often warmer than the suburbs or rural areas. During the day, all that brick, metal and concrete in the city absorbs the daytime heat. The same thing on a smaller level happens in a passive solar house with a thermal mass. During the day it absorbs heat, and at night when it’s cooler, the mass releases heat.
Add an overhang or sun porch
In the summer, all of those windows you put on the south wall will turn your house into an oven! To moderate the temperature in the summer, install an overhang or sun porch to limit the summertime sun—keeping your house cooler.
Adding planned landscaping
Seasonal landscaping can also help with keeping your house cool in the summertime, but still allows sunlight for winter heating. Many people plant seasonal trees or vines that may help block sunlight. Even though it was unintentional, my house is completely shaded during summer afternoons courtesy of some lovely, leafy trees around our backyard. In the fall, all of the leaves fall off the trees and the back of the house generally stays pretty warm in the winter since it gets the most winter sunlight. The lesson here is not to plant evergreen trees or any other type of plant that might block the sunlight during the winter season.
Some of these concepts aren’t the cheapest additions or fixes to your home and may come along with a little sweat equity. However, with these additions, you can avoid the installation and wiring that comes along with installing solar panels in your home. With many people turning to more sustainable homes to save money and resources, incorporating more environmentally friendly options makes your home more desirable if you decide to sell it in the future.
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3 Responses to “Passive solar homes: the basics”
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I didn’t know that wood floors help to retain the heat, brilliant! I have wood floors in my kitchen, living and dining room, perhaps it’s time to get them in the rest of the house as well!
Effective passive solar really needs to be planned in the designing stage of a house. Retrofitting will have very limited use.
It is, however, one of the greatest things you can do for cutting winter utility bills. I lived in a passive solar house. Unlike active solar, which RARELY produces any kind of ROI and is generally just vanity spending, passive solar usually pays for itself in less than 5 years and never loses value. There are no mechanical systems that you can say work as well 50 years after they were installed as they did the day they were put in!
In my passive solar house in the mountains, the upstairs could get up into the 80s on days when it was 15-20F. With NO HEAT on! If hit had been planned better, we wouldn’t have had to use heat at night, either.