A big part of the passive solar home equation resides in cutting down on how much heating and cooling you need. The lower your demands, the bigger the percentage you can cover with renewable solar energy. There are two main culprits of internal heat gain in the average home:
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If you're designing a direct gain passive solar home, you will need to maintain a careful balance between two vital parts: the amount of glazing on each side of the house and the amount of thermal mass available inside to store and later release heat. Getting the glass-to-mass ratio wrong will result in too much or too little heating.
One of the aspects of passive solar house design that surprises many people is the need for shade. If your heating depends on sunlight, why would you block it? Because not all sunlight is beneficial to a passive solar home – the high summer sun, in particular, can produce far too much heat, requiring some kind of shade to stop your home turning into an oven.
One of the most infuriating aspects of passive solar design is that one size never fits all. A design that works perfectly on your site may be ineffective two miles away on the other side of a hill, on higher ground, or in a rural area.
With that in mind, regional adjustments are not too difficult. The basic design can stay much the same in areas with similar climate, but you will have to adjust four factors:
One of the aspects of passive solar house design that surprised many people is the need for shade. If your heating depends on sunlight, why would you block it? Because not all sunlight is beneficial to a passive solar home – the high summer sun, in particular, can produce far too much heat, requiring some kind of shade to stop your home turning into an oven.
Direct gain passive solar homes have many advantages and disadvantages compared to other approaches. Historically, the first direct gain homes were often a complete mess, because the designers had little understanding of the need to balance things like solar glazing and thermal mass. Modern designs are much better, especially since analysis software is now available to help make the tough decisions.
Thankfully, the days of cookie-cutter houses built quickly to exactly the same design are on their way out. Even in places where the homes are all based on the same floor plan, individual home owners add and change things to suit themselves. One of the easiest things to change in any home is the color of the exterior walls.
In most cases, we talk about thermal mass as something that absorbs and stores useful heat from the sun's light, releasing it when your home gets colder to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. However, it is possible to use thermal mass as an effective cooling mechanism.
Thermal walls, or Trombe walls, are the single most flexible passive solar option: they work in any climate and on any home, providing extra heat throughout the night after gathering heat during the day.