Passive Solar Heating Design Ideas

Passive solar heating uses the sun’s energy without the aid of electricity-producing panels. The most important aspect of passive solar heating is the design and layout of the home. Passive solar heated homes incorporate a combination of open, south-facing walls, absorbent materials, good ventilation systems and a layout that best utilizes the sun during the hottest parts of the day. A well-designed passive solar heated home captures the sun’s energy during both the summer and winter. In the summertime, with the aid of natural air flow, shades and reflective surfaces, homes are kept cooler and require less power for air conditioning. In the winter, heat absorbent wall materials along with large windows capture the sun’s heat during the day to reduce the need for electric or natural gas heat.

Passive Solar Heat Design Ideas

The design and layout of the home is the most important element of passive solar heating. The direction that the home faces, the layout of the interior rooms and the inclusion of heat storing walls, skylights, clerestories and other beneficial design features are but a few ways to both heat and cool your home with the sun. When designing a passive solar heated home, consider some of the following options:

Orientation and Shape

A home with passive solar heating should primarily face south along an east-west axis with a slope to the roof downward from south to north. Such an orientation of the home maximizes southern sun exposure during the winter to reduce heating costs. In the summer, the sun is higher in the sky. Combined with other features for shading and ventilating, the home receives reduced east-west sun exposure which helps to keep it cool during the hot months. The shape of the roof is important for heating and cooling in the winter and summer, respectively. A sloped roof downward from south to north opens up the south face of the home to the lower winter sun while the downward slope reduces the amount of heat that is lost to the north side. With north walls that are lower in height, the northern outdoor space of the home will receive more light as well.

Indoor Spaces

The interior rooms of the home should be positioned so that those in need of the most winter sun receive, such as the living room, dining room and kitchen. Buffer space is a term for stairways, closets and hallways that should not the focus of a home layout. In the winter–to reduce heat use–the rooms most likely to be occupied should receive the most sunlight. Heat will move towards the colder areas of the home and will thus heat the buffer space naturally.

Absorbent Materials

Thermal mass materials such as concrete and masonry can absorb heat and store it for nighttime diffusion through a room or the home. If solar windows are properly placed in thermal walls, sunlight can be reflected onto them, stored and used to provide natural heat during the evening and night. Concrete and brick walls or floors used for thermal storage should be at least 4 inches thick. They should be dark in color and be positioned across from light colored walls that will reflect sunlight onto them. By spreading sunlight out over thermal surfaces, heat is stored for later use.

Other ways to increase the efficiency of a passive solar heated home is to use glazed solar windows which let sunlight in but prevent much of it from escaping and the proper design and placement of skylights and clerestories. By working with the movement of the sun throughout the year, a home can be designed that stays warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Aside from some of the materials, the principles of a passive solar heated home have been in place for thousands of years. With modern home designs, people are starting to realize that energy use can be greatly curtailed by a smart, sensible design that works in harmony with nature.

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