Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Passive Solar Design: A Good Start To Living Off The Grid

By Tim McDonald

Passive solar design is one of the simplest ways to improve your home's value and save electricity at the same time.

Passive solar design is a technique of using the sun to naturally heat and light up your home or office. This is achieved by using various building features and materials to improve heating and cooling efficiency. The best part about passive solar design is that it is relatively simple to implement, little maintenance is needed, and your home's market value can increase considerably.

Your home's passive solar potential is determined by where and how it is situated and by the types of windows and materials used. Although most buildings can be optimized to receive the ideal amount of sunshine, it is easier if they are on flat land or a sun-facing slope. If your home is surrounded by many trees, make sure they are deciduous so that they shade your home in summer, but their bare branches let sunlight through in winter. Also, try avoid nearby buildings that create too much shade.

When constructing a new home, make sure it is built so that the length of the house faces the sun, allowing the maximum amount of sunlight. Also note how the size, shape and placement of windows will determine the amount of natural heat and light in your home.

So how does the sun heat your home? There are three ways:

1) Direct - the heat from the direct sunshine on an object.

2) Indirect gain - radiated heat from objects heated by the sun.

3) Isolated - caused from the air movement in your home.

To maximize the sun's natural heat from all three sources, it is best to use large windows on the sun-facing side of your home.

All that sunlight and heat in your home is useless, if it cannot be stored and used when the sun is set. The solution is to use heat-absorbent flooring and walls that carry on radiating heat long into the night. A simple way to reduce power cost in winter is to locate to rooms in your house that get the most sunshine at certain times of day. Also, shady rooms should be cut-off (their doors closed) from the rest of the house to retain heat better.

To control how much sunlight and heat enters your home in summer, you could install roof overhangs. They should be the right breadth to block out the hot midday sun, but let in low-angle, weaker sunlight too. And do not forget to use the right foliage and trees in your garden to control how much seasonal sunlight enters your home.

For current buildings, the simplest passive solar design solution is to replace your windows with modern ones, that use various methods to store up 50% more heat. Although they are 10% to 15% more expensive, they pay for themselves in the long-term from all the power saved to heat your home.

Also known as Low-emissivity (Low-E) windows, double-glazed windows are great at letting through sunlight, but retaining that natural heat inside. Some of them have multiple panes of glass with a gap of argon or krypton gas to store the heat. Also to reduce heat loss, make sure your windows and doors are well-sealed.

The type of windows frames you use can also make a huge difference. Metal frames should be avoided since they draw heat out of your home in winter, but heat up your home in summer. It is better to use wooden, vinyl or fiberglass frames to insulate your home better. When you do buy modern windows make sure they are labeled by the National Fenestration Rating Council or by Energy Star. That way you will be able to buy the right windows for your needs and budget.

The whole idea behind passive solar design is to use the sun's natural heat in such a way that it reduces your energy consumption and expenses. So before going out and getting the latest and greatest passive solar design and products, always weigh up the cost involved with how much you will save in energy bills in the long-term.

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