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You don’t have to install expensive panels or complicated mechanisms to leverage the power of the sun. You can harness solar energy just through smart design of your home, including the position of the structure, the direction of windows, materials used for walls and flooring, and landscaping.
The concept of “passive solar design” takes advantages of these properties in building design to make the most of natural sunlight to keep your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This concept takes into consideration the location of the sun in the winter and the summer, the direction of wind, and the particularities of local climate.
Passive solar design utilizes the following properties:
The sun is highest in the sky during the summer and lowest in the sky during the winter. By orienting your house so that its longest side is facing the south, and installing a lot of south-facing windows, you can take advantage of the sun’s heat during the winter to warm your home. The practice of including a lot of south-facing windows, known as glazing, allows your home to welcome more light and heat from the sun during the winter. Using shades or awning during the summer allows you to block that heat to keep your home cool.
Simply opening your home to more light is not always enough to getting the full warming benefits of the sun. You must also use materials that can absorb the heat. At night, these materials will then emit heat, helping to keep your home warm even in the absence of the sun.
Thermal materials include brick, concrete, adobe, and tile. You can include flooring, a fireplace, or even a whole wall made of these materials to trap heat from the sun during the day. At night, use insulating drapes or shades to keep in the heat that it emitted by these thermal materials.
The proper insulation can help you to keep out warm air in the summer and keep in warm air during the winter, reducing the amount of work your heating and cooling unit will have to do to regulate temperatures in your home. Your foundation should include proper insulation around all the walls of your home that are connected to your living area. Placement of storage areas such as your garage, laundry room or closets at the east or west end of your home can protect living spaces from the harsh sun.
Heavy, insulated drapes, shades, moveable shutters, awnings, and landscaping can also provide valuable insulation for your home.
Trees and Shading
Conscientious landscape design can also help your home take full advantage of solar energy for proper heating and cooling. Choose evergreen trees that will keep their leaves all year long to plant to the north, east, and west or your home to block out the harsh summer rays. For the southern side of your home, choose trees that will lose their leaves in the winter so that they block rays in the summer but welcome them in during the winter.
High trees that hang over your home can also reduce temperatures on your roof and attic, helping to bring down your cooling bill in the summer.
Passive solar design takes advantage of the natural landscape to get the most heat out of the sun during the cool, winter months and to help cool your home during the summer. Doing so not only reduces your energy consumption, but it also saves you money. Look for these elements in the next home you buy, or work to change some elements of your current home to make it more in line with passive solar design principles.