Best Use of Passive Solar Energy in Your Home
Energy from the Sun
Lowering Your Energy Bill
Before you spend your next dollar, think about whether or not you could make a few simple changes to your home to allow passive solar energy to heat or cool it. You never thought of this? If no one is making money from the sun shining through your window, the concept of free energy is the last thing you will ever hear. There is no advertising to push you. You have to do this yourself.
Warm Climate Building
Passive Solar Home Designs
We have always used passive solar heating and cooling. Before there were furnaces and air conditioners, people were careful to build houses to their best comfort advantage. In many hot climates homes are still built of natural materials, small windows, high ceilings, low hanging fans, and cool courtyards. In wet climates we see pointed, steep thatched roofs on houses built on stilts with maximum ventilation. In cold climates we can find well insulated homes with basements, fireplaces, enclosed foyers, and semi-buried houses.
New Braunfels, Texas
There is a town in Texas called New Braunfels, founded in 1845, that was built by the Germans in a very deliberate manner. All of the houses faced North or South, so the houses would receive no direct, summer sun indoors from the West, and stay cooler. Few doors and windows would be on the west side.
North Facing Northern Home
Anyone can plan a house to build that is positioned correctly and has designs that take the best advantage of the sun, but how can we get the maximum benefit of the sun in our existing home? If you live in a cooler climate, and your house faces north with lots of windows facing south, your solar heating problems are much easier to solve. Add a sunroom or greenhouse to the back of your house. Make sure there is a roof overhang enough to create a 47 degree angle to keep out the high summer sun but let in the low winter sun. (Measure the angle of the high summer sun coming in against the angle of the low winter sun coming in with the 47 degree angle being where they cross, close to the end of the roof overhang.)
South Facing Northern House
It is easy to think you have no options if your home faces south, but maybe you do. Think of adding onto the front of your house in a decorative way that will compliment your home and your neighborhood. This solar space will get warm, so include blinds for warmer spring and fall days. You may want to add insulated blinds to close at night to conserve your heat in winter.
East-West Facing Northern Home
If your house faces east or west, and if you have space on the side of your home, and you have, or could put, windows and a door on the south side of your house, add an enclosed sun porch.
Stay away from the idea of skylights or glass ceilings. Your sunroom should not have a glass ceiling because you want to keep out the warm summer sun with your solid roof overhang. If you live in a very cold climate, the snow may crack your ceiling glass.
Be aware of your color scheme. Black absorbs heat and white repels it.
Liquids Retain Heat
Once you get your solar room, decorate with large bottles of water. Liquids store heat better than solids. Use your space to grow miniature fruit trees, hanging strawberry or tomato baskets, and favorite vegetables. With energy prices soaring the cost of food is soon to increase. So, let your sunroom be your greenhouse.
In the olden days in the north people used to have enclosed foyers. You would enter the front door, take off your boots and coat, then, enter another door to get into the house. You can still add this feature to the front or back of your house (north facing door).
For best results, on north facing windows, use reflective glass, put light colored shingles on your roof over a radiant barrier, and get triple pane windows.
Keep Your Furnace Off
If you really want to get your whole house solar warm, create an air flow. Open vents from the solar room to the attic, capture that warm air on the north side of the attic, and vent it to your back rooms or circulate it to the basement. It will cool in the basement and return to your sunroom. Warm air rises, so getting it into the attic will occur naturally. Some fans may be needed to carry it all the way around. An energy conscious remodeler should be able to help you find the best method. But, it can be done!
Solar panels are useful if none of the above will work for you. There have been a lot of advances, and you might find you can easily and inexpensively have your entire home solar powered with a simple home project.
Passive Solar Air Conditioner
If you live someplace hot, as I do, you don't want your house to be facing west, like the smart founders of New Braunfels. We try to stay cool, so we want our sunroom to be located in the east. To stay cool we need high ceilings, ceiling fans, and shade trees.
You might be surprised to learn that you can get passive solar air conditioning. This may be a little tougher than heating in an existing southern home.
Preparing for Our Future
It is easy to imagine that tomorrow we will wake up, and everything will be the same as today, as always. I suspect the night before the big Wall Street crash in 1929, marking the beginning of the great depression that lasted 12 years, everyone went to bed thinking the next October day would be the same as every other. Today there are climate change disasters, oil shortages, and soaring inflation with the rich buying up gold. Tomorrow may not be the same as today. We should prepare for that!
Considering a Low or No Energy Home
- Indoor Air Quality Where We Live. With each breath we take we breathe in some toxins--fewer is better. Learn which type of home has the potential for offering better indoor air quality.
- Air Conditioning Fraud and Scams: How to Avoid Them and Save Money. By looking at advertising or calling the first company you see, may be costing you $100's or $1,000. Stop getting ripped-off!! Learn why you need to be better informed about your heating and cooling repair choices.
- How to Start when Buying a House. Understanding the house buying process before approaching a Realtor is to your advantage and will save you time and energy.
- Change Anything with Paint. Make your home beautiful, inside and out, with a few simple paint tricks. You will be amazed how inexpensive and easy it is to fix almost anything with paint.
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