How Passive Solar Design Increases Comfort, Space and Energy Savings

Before deciding on your interior layout, consider the following questions: Which rooms will be used the most frequently? What are the lighting needs for each room? What is the sun exposure?

March 31, 2020

Maximize Space & Energy Savings with Passive Solar Design

One of the most commonly overlooked aspects of building your own home is the orientation of your building and floor plan. By paying attention to sunlight, ventilation and thermal mass you can maximize space and energy savings.

Although the sun is nearly 150 million kilometers away, it has an amazing impact on our planet and is top of mind for architects looking to design comfortable and energy efficient spaces. Passive solar design uses the sun’s energy to collect heat as the sun shines through south-facing windows and retains it in materials that store this heat, known as thermal mass. The proportion of a home’s heating load that can be met by passive solar design is known as it’s passive solar fraction, and this number depends on the amount of glass and thermal mass. A well-designed passive solar home will provide daylight all year round and warmth during the winter.

Elements of Passive Solar Design

In order to be successful, a passive solar home must combine these basic elements:

Optimal Window Orientation

In passive solar design, windows and other devices that collect solar energy, such as solar panels, should be placed within 30 degrees of true south (in the northern hemisphere) and not be shaded in cooler seasons by other buildings or trees between 9 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. Modern homes have smaller heating loads, so there is no need to oversize glass areas that are south-facing.  If you do have lots of south facing windows, ensure that the glass is properly shaded to prevent overheating in the spring and autumn.

Distribution Mechanisms

There are three main distribution mechanisms for transferring solar heat to different areas of the home: conduction, convection and radiation. Conduction consists of heat moving between two objects that are in direct contact with one another. Convection transfers heat through a medium such as air or water. Radiation is when heat naturally extends to its surroundings, like the feeling you get when you stand next to a sunny window. Passive solar homes often use convection to move air from warmer areas to cooler ones.

Control Strategies

Adjustments typically need to be made throughout the year to facilitate passive solar design strategies. This commonly includes roof overhangs that provide shade to windows on the southern elevation in the summer. Other controls consist of electronic heat sensors that signal fans to turn on or off; operable vents and dampers that can enable or restrict heat flow; operable insulating shutters; blinds; and awnings.

Choosing the Best Place for a Kitchen

Kitchens overheat easily, so it makes sense to put them where they get less direct sunlight, such as the eastern elevation where it may catch the morning sun but not the hotter mid-day and late afternoon sun. Another great place for the kitchen is the northern elevation or a central location within the home.

Creating Enjoyable Common Areas

The western elevation is ideal for rooms that are occupied predominantly in the evening, such as the living room. This allows residents and guests to enjoy the evening sunsets. For rooms that are used throughout the day, such as a home office, the southern side of the home allows them to be warmed and well lit throughout the day.

What About Bedrooms?

In general, bedrooms don’t require as much heat or daylight as other areas of the home. As a result, their placement is largely based on aesthetics, convenience and other design preferences.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Refine Designs

While the concept of designing a passive solar home may seem simple, the details can become tedious. At Lamelli, we have access to computer models that can simulate the elevation, climate and sun exposure of a building site in order to determine the best building orientation, insulation, air sealing, amount  and type of glazing, thermal mass location and other details. These models can also help owner’s configure their home to their aesthetic preferences, performance requirements and budget prior to detailing the specific elements of their prefabricated home.

Passive solar design fully optimizes a building’s site, climate and materials to minimize energy use. The result is superior comfort and lower heating and cooling costs. When you buy a Lamelli home, we go the extra mile to ensure that your home is as energy efficient and well suited to your needs as possible, from the materials to the orientation and layout. Contact us to get started today!

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