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Passive solar design: A homeowner’s guide

    Passive solar design is a sustainable home design technique predicated on the use of solar power to help run a home. While there are several contemporary design principles and eco-friendly features to help make living spaces more green, this practice is unique in its combination of sustainable energy and design. Read on to further answer the question: What is passive solar design?

    Understanding passive solar design

    Passive solar design combines two principles:

    • Understanding that solar energy can help power a home.
    • Orienting and designing a home in a way that optimizes available solar energy.

    So, passive solar design is the green architectural home design principle that evaluates the location of a home (ideally before it’s built) and plans for how it will be built to maximize the absorption, storage and usage of solar energy.

    You may be wondering, what is this energy ultimately used for? Well, passive solar technologies convert sunlight into energy used to heat and cool homes without the need for electricity. Unlike active solar heating systems, passive systems don’t heavily rely on the use of mechanical and electrical devices (pumps, fans or electrical controls) to conduct the energy.

    Key components of passive solar design

    There are five key components of passive solar design:

    • Aperture: Sometimes also known as a collector, the aperture is the large glass area that sunlight seeps through. Ideally, the aperture should face about 30 degrees south and shouldn’t be obstructed by trees or tall buildings that would interrupt absorption during the heating season.
    • Controls: Controls help regulate under-heating or overheating. Roofs are examples of how the aperture is properly shaded, when necessary, while thermostats and fans are used to mediate the home’s temperature and solar energy consumption.
    • Absorber: The absorber is the surface that collects (and quite literally absorbs) direct rays of sunlight for passive solar heating. It is typically a hard, dark surface, like the floors or walls of a home.
    • Thermal mass: The thermal mass sits below the absorber and stores the heat taken in by the absorber for later use.
    • Distribution: Distribution is the way heat is physically transported throughout the home. A true passive design structure will rely solely on natural modes of conduction, convection and radiation. However, some passive designs may use additional elements, like fans, to help move the process along.

    Benefits of a passive solar home

    A well-designed passive solar home should ideally help reduce heating and cooling loads (the amount of energy needed to maintain an ideal temperature) and then meet those reduced loads with solar energy. This means there is potential for a reduction in how much energy a home uses, which might decrease the amount owed on utility bills. In addition to potentially lowering costs, passive solar homes could possibly reduce your carbon footprint and, ultimately, help the environment. Finally, if done right, you may also be improving the construction quality, durability and air quality of your home.

    In summary

    Passive solar design is a strategy used to construct living spaces that optimize absorption of solar energy, and ultimately improve the energy input and output of a home. It is particularly relevant to how a home controls its temperature and airflow and is one of many contemporary sustainability practices to make green homes. This article is for educational and informational only and is in the customers best interest to seek expert advice in regards to solar design.

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