Build It

Fol­low the Sun

Timber Home Living - - Contents - BY JOHN MORELL

For the sake of the en­vi­ron­ment and your check­ing ac­count, mak­ing your home as en­ergy ef­fi­cient as pos­si­ble is good prac­tice. And the best time to take ac­tion is dur­ing the de­sign phase be­cause it’s easy to fig­ure out the struc­ture’s en­ergy needs and usage in or­der to mod­ify the de­sign and bet­ter its ef­fi­ciency.

A big part of this process is pas­siveso­lar de­sign. Pop­u­lar in north­ern cli­mates where the sun swings high in the sky dur­ing the sum­mer and low dur­ing the win­ter, pas­sive-so­lar de­sign re­lies on an­cient prin­ci­ples of home build­ing.

The cost of giv­ing your dream home the ul­ti­mate pas­sive-so­lar treat­ment could add to your build­ing costs when you in­clude the de­sign and ma­te­ri­als, but there is value to it be­yond the sat­is­fac­tion of sav­ing en­ergy. “You’re bound to re­ceive a higher price for the prop­erty when you sell it,” says Sarah Net­tle­ton, a Min­neapo­lis-based ar­chi­tect and land­scape de­signer who spe­cial­izes in pas­sive-so­lar de­sign. “Elec­tric­ity, gas and wa­ter are only go­ing to get more ex­pen­sive, and if you can shield your­self from those ex­penses with pas­sive so­lar, you’re go­ing to be ahead of the game in the long term.”

Net­tle­ton says that it has only been within the past cen­tury that heat­ing and cool­ing a home just meant walk­ing in and flip­ping a switch. “Peo­ple like the early Hopi, who didn’t have elec­tric­ity, made their cave homes liv­able by build­ing them so that they faced south. The sun en­tered the home and warmed it in win­ter, and dur­ing the sum­mer, it was higher over­head so they didn’t have to deal with di­rect sun­light,” she says.

The first step in pas­sive-so­lar de­sign is plan­ning a home’s foot­print with a com­pass and a global po­si­tion­ing sys­tem so that the ma­jor­ity of its win­dows face what’s called “true south.” Of course, this can be a prob­lem if your lot sits on the east side of a lake or vista with hopes of breath­tak­ing views. In that case, some de­sign­ers rec­om­mend plenty of win­dows for the view side, but to make sure the glass is dou­ble-glazed and ex­te­rior lou­vers or blinds are in place to pro­tect against sun­light when you don’t need it.

Win­dows are un­for­tu­nately the weak link in a struc­ture’s in­su­la­tion sys­tem, but well-con­di­tioned win­dows

with en­ergy-ef­fi­cient Low-E glaz­ing can min­i­mize the amount of heat trans­ferred in and out.

The ma­te­ri­als in­side the home also af­fect its so­lar de­sign. Pas­sive-so­lar de­sign­ers re­fer to “ther­mal mass,” which is the abil­ity of a ma­te­rial to ab­sorb and store heat. Floor­ing such as brick, con­crete and some types of tile can ab­sorb heat from the sun and ra­di­ate it into the home dur­ing the night. “That’s why, in the win­ter, you want the sun to come in and warm up the floor, and in the sum­mer, you want to keep it out. It’s all about us­ing the sun to your best ad­van­tage,” Net­tle­ton says.

If you have your heart set on wood floor­ing through­out the home, you can turn one of the sun-fac­ing in­te­rior walls into a ther­mal mass. A ther­mal wall made of brick or con­crete ab­sorbs heat from the sun and warms the room, just as ther­mal floor­ing would. The heat col­lected in one room can be eas­ily trans­ferred to other parts of a house with an open floor plan — a fre­quent fea­ture in new homes.

The first step in pas­sive-so­lar de­sign is plan­ning a home’s foot­print with a com­pass and a global po­si­tion­ing sys­tem so that the ma­jor­ity of its win­dows face “true south.”

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