The Brilliance of Passive Solar Homes

Homes designed using the principles of passive solar design can be found everywhere; from architectural masterpieces in grand and isolated locations, to brilliantly quirky designs in typical suburbs. But how do you go about living in one? In fact, what is it that makes a passive solar home what it is?

Although the engineering behind it is quite complex, building a passive solar house can be surprisingly simple and practical. What’s more, living in a well-designed solar house can be super-comfortable, and it’s a lot more economical than a regular house as consumption of electricity is greatly reduced. And of course this makes it environmentally sustainable as well.

There are various levels of passive solar energy use for homes. Here are the different measures you can take:

Step One: The essential element. Buy, build or rent a house or apartment with the orientation or window mass on the south side in the northern hemisphere and on the north side in the southern hemisphere. Catch the rays when you need them; it’s that simple!

Passive solar design has been utilized for centuries out of practical necessity, since long before the invention of machines to heat and cool a space. Solar house design originated through common sense when people were more tuned in with their environments. The ancient Greek philosopher Aeschylus wrote: “Only primitives and barbarians lack knowledge of houses turned to face the winter sun.” And who are we to argue?

Solar houses have long been popular in China, and they were favored by architects in certain regions of Germany following WWI. However, it is only recently that some governments have been encouraging the design with tax incentives.

Step Two: Thermal mass. Solid mass is used in the floor and walls – for example, concrete – and this mass soaks up and stores the sun’s heat. Many houses can achieve reductions in heating expense by using the sun and by adding thermal mass such as insulation to the walls, roof and floor, with occasional use of heating.

Step Three: Ventilation by controlling airflow through the house. Hot air can be removed in the summer by opening vents or trapped inside in the winter by sealing the spaces within the house. Simples.

Step Four: Overhanging eaves provide the simplest form of shading in the summer, and with some calculations as to latitude and altitude, the angle and width of eaves can block the summer sun. A relatively eaves-y one!

The best of passive solar engineering uses no outside power source, relying solely on solar and perhaps other renewable energy sources.

An active solar house goes a step further, incorporating pumps or fans and using motorized timers and sensors to raise or lower vents and window shades. But even if you simply go with a passive solar design, it’s still a smooth move in the right direction!