Solar Design: When
I began studying natural building, it took me awhile
to get my thoughts around the idea that a house can
be a heating/cooling unit, as well as an attractive
shelter. I love visiting the cliff dwellings in the
Four Corners area and seeing how the ancient people
knew this. You will only find cliff dwellings on south-facing
slopes. That is one of the core principles of passive
solar design - large south-facing windows, or in the
case of my house, a south-facing sunroom. (In the southern
hemisphere it would be opposite, but I'll talk northern
hemisphere.) The angle of the earth in the winter makes
the sun go south, so it can shine through these windows
and warm the house when you need it. Then, as the earth
tilts in the hot summer, the sun goes north, so these
windows are in shade. Obviously, this doesn't work so
well near the equator, but you don't need the heating
and cooling there.
with south windows, much depends on your environment
and climate. No matter whether you have double or triple
pane windows, they probably won't be as well insulated
as your walls. So, for that reason, consider how much
south window area you really need. In the Sonoran Desert,
we don't generally need much heating in the winter and
we get really hot n the summer. I built a large sunroom,
after moving here from New York, and as much as I love
the natural light in the house and the feel of the sunroom,
it is more window-space than I need. The good part is
that I can shut off the sunroom on cold nights or hot
days by closing my (double-pane) french doors. If your
windows face right into your main house, you can't do
that as well, so you will get the cold of the night
beating at your windows or the heat of the summer. Plus,
the sun bleaches out carpets, drapes, furniture. I use
those inexpensive Emergency Blankets found in camping
stores to insulate my sunroom windows in the summer.
I have cockatiels in an aviary in my sunroom, so I try
not to let the room get too hot or too cold. Those Emergency
Blankets work incredibly well. I just tape them onto
the glass and then cover them with bamboo roll-downs.
If you've ever used them camping on cold nights, you
will know how well they work. (As a side note, I am
trying them in the garden this year, too. I heard the
reflection confuses the bugs and keeps pests off the
plants. I'll let you know how that works.)
you live in a cold climate, then you would want thermal
mass in your walls and in your home, so it all heats
up from the sun and holds the temperature. Then do whatever
you can to help the house hold that temperature overnight.
Thermal indoor curtains, thermal mass interior walls
(earth, concrete, tile, rocks). In that case, a square
or dome house would be fine, so you have lots of wall
space exposed to the warm afternoon sun. In my case,
in the hot desert, I want to be sure that not too much
of the house is exposed to the hot afternoon sun to
the west, so I have a rectangle with a thin west side.
The sides of my house face exactly North/South and East/West.
My porches are a wonderful way to keep the sun off the
walls of the house. With our dry climate, the temperature
can vary greatly in the sun and in the shade.
can be done to cool any house with trees and vines.
If you want the heat of the sun in the winter, but you
don't want it in the summer, then you can find trees
who drop their leaves in the winter to shade the west
side of your home. Or plant gourd vines or even squash
vines and remove the heavy squash. They grow very, very
rapidly. Whatever works.
you get the idea. Figure out from your climate, where
you want the sun warming your house at what time of
year and where you want shade at what time of year,
then use insulation, thermal mass, or shade from plants
(or anything else) as you need it. Thermal mass on the
inside of a house is a good idea in any climate. It
helps maximize whatever cooling or heating you use.
You can do this on any home. Insulate those ducts and
any joints, also. I stuff towels in my cooler ducts
in the winter. Hope this helps!
it Simple - and be kind!