As with all forms of solar power – solar thermal, PV panels, solar chimneys and others – the amount and quality of sunlight to which a home is exposed is extremely important in holistic home design. Thankfully, again in common with many other forms of solar power, even areas that might appear at first sight to be far too gloomy can, in fact, provide enough energy to reduce heating bills by 50% or more.
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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.
As with all passive solar design options, Trombe walls are a great addition to your home design: they retain a lot of heat, helping to reduce your nighttime heating costs throughout the cool period of the year. However, again like all other options, they need to be used correctly or they won't do you any good.
Although thermal Trombe walls work well in all climates and for almost any home, you need to choose the correct design for your particular needs. This choice depends on your local climate. Here are some essential guidelines:
The single most widely applicable passive solar design option is thermal or Trombe walls. The option works in every climate and every location, from the hottest and sunniest to the coldest and darkest. But like everything, Trombe walls have their disadvantages as well.
Sunspaces – especially those attached outside the main home – are extremely popular. However, like all things, you need to carefully consider the benefits and disadvantages rather than just jumping in and building one.
Almost every passive solar building has a backup heating system, whether it's really needed or not. It is possible to design a passive solar home that heats itself, but it may not pass local building regulations. It will also be very hard to sell, as most home buyers simply won't believe that the house needs no heater other than the sun!
There are five options commonly available as backup heating for passive solar homes:
It is one of life's cruel ironies that the most common heating system in the USA is also one of the least environmentally friendly. Forced-air heating installations are present in over 60% of homes in the country. Of course, some are better than others – these systems have heat generated by solar thermal systems, heat pumps, and furnaces of all types (oil-fired, gas-fired, electric, or wood).
Regardless of what kind of backup heating system you put in your passive solar home – forced-air, radiant floor, baseboard hot-water, or something else – you're going to need a source of heat. And that means a high-efficiency boiler or furnace.