Imagine freedom from paying your bills. Not all of them, of course. Just a few—namely gas, oil, and electric.
Building a house using passive solar design principles can allow the home to go off the grid for all or many heating and cooling needs. And, with today's technologies and innovations, without sacrificing aesthetics or functionality.
Modern architects have harnessed the power of the sun since the 1930s. But it was rare: Builders struggled to integrate the beauty of architecture with the utilitarian aspect of engineering. It wasn't until the oil and energy crisis of the '70s forced architects to think of creative design solutions that solar passive techniques finally gained traction.
Since then architects have sought to reach a balance between how a house works and how it looks. Here's how!
Passive solar design starts with the building site. Architects need to give particular consideration to the placement of the house, which relies heavily on the local path of the sun, since that will be the home's the primary source of energy. Architects use software to make 3-dimensional computer models that help them position their projects in the precise spot that will allow them to use the sun's radiant energy to maximum effect. (Latitude, altitude, local climate, and vegetation also play important roles.)
Next challenge: the roof, which needs to block the sun in the summer but allow light in the winter. Cantilevering the roof over the windows or pitching it at an angle should do the trick. Also the temperature in the attic of the house needs to be cooler than outside in order for proper convection to occur.
Roofing materials that reflect sunlight allows the temperature in the attic to be cooler than the outside in order for convection to occur—so does insulating the roof. Open floor plans and strategic window placement allow for cross breezes, which also encourages convection.
Windows also play in an important role in passive solar design. Using skylights and windows that face the afternoon sun in winter but will be shaded from sunlight in the summer allows for natural lighting during the day.
Western-facing windows best allow heat into a house, which is great for the winter but can cause overheating in the summer. Using exterior blinds and shades can limit the amount of sunlight and therefore heat allowed into the residence.
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