A Passive Solar House – Cool Climate Passive Solar Heating and Cooling Tips

In any climate, if you’re thinking of going green, passive solar energy design is the best place to start. Affordable passive solar homes are easy to construct using the same basic materials as conventional housing. All it takes is a little thought and some clever manipulation of the sun and wind and you can save thousands of dollars on energy bills throughout the lifetime of your home.

Although many of our passive solar home design tips can be easily and inexpensively applied to an existing home the most effective passive solar power dwellings are carefully planned from the outset to take best advantage of the sun’s natural rhythm.

A long and shallow house that faces as close to true south as possible is a good start. East and west walls will have little exposure to the sun while the north should have the fewest windows.

In cooler climates most of your energy bill represents heating and cooling costs. Passive solar energy principles revolve around regulating your home’s interior temperature by inviting as much sun as possible in during the winter months while discouraging it in summer.

Here are some of our favorite tips for collecting free passive solar energy.

  • 1. Insulation ~ Not the prettiest aspect but it absolutely makes the most of a passive solar design. Without adequate insulation in floors, ceilings, walls and around electrical outlets, doors, windows and dryer vents all of your other passive solar efforts will be unimpressive.
  • 2. East ~ Plan a breakfast patio on the east side of your home where you can soak up the sun on summer mornings before the heat of the day sets in. Plantings,   awnings  and insulated window coverings will keep the sun out of the house in the summers.
  • 3. West ~ The best place for a deep covered veranda. Watch the sun set from the cool shade of your covered porch. Plan a windbreak of trees to the north west to keep the winter winds at bay.
  • 4. South ~ (north in the southern hemisphere) This is the side of the house that collects the most passive solar power. Orient your house and most of your windows and doorways facing in this direction.  Awnings  or shallow overhangs will keep the sun out in the summer while allowing it in during the winter.
  • 5. North ~ (south in the southern hemisphere) There is little or no opportunity for solar gain on the shady side of your home, but a great deal of heat can be lost through these openings. Windows to the north, or the shady side of the house should be minimal, just enough for safety and escape routes. Large openings such as garden doors should be covered with insulated draperies or shutters during the winter. Evergreen trees or an earth berm on this side help to block frigid winter winds.
  • 6. Plantings ~ Deciduous plantings (leaves fall off in the winter) in the form of trees, trellises, arbors, pergolas and pots, provide ample shade in the summer when placed near windows and doorways but allow winter sun lots of access to warm the home after their leaves have fallen off. Way more than shading the area, trees and other greenery actually cool the air. In much the same way as an air conditioner, greenery drinks in gallons, even dozens of gallons, of humidity from the surrounding air, making tree shade superior to  awning  shade.
  • 7. Patios ~ Outdoor living spaces add ambience and, of course, living area for your summer activities. Plan an outdoor cooking area on your shady patio to keep the heat out of the house on sultry summer evenings.
  • 8. Entryways ~ A separate entryway or mud room allows you to exit and enter the house, greet guests and cart in groceries and other needs without exposing the house to the elements. Use an energy efficient space heater to regulate the temperature of this space.
  • 9. Thermal Mass ~ Thermal materials such as stone, brick or concrete floors. window ledges/seats and islands or half walls, readily absorb the sun’s thermal rays to be slowly released into the evening hours. A depth of at least 4 inches of thermal material works best.
  • 10. Covered Verandas ~ The best place for a deep, covered veranda is on the west side of the house to provide a cool afternoon space. The veranda will keep the afternoon sun from intruding into your living space during the summer. Avoid covered verandas on the south side as they do not allow sufficient sunlight to enter the home for warmth in the winter.

In very cold climates, properly applied passive solar principles can provide all the summer cooling you’ll require and most of your winter heating needs as well. The addition of a wood or pellet burning stove or energy efficient space heater can provide sufficient heat throughout even very cold winters.

One size does not fit all when making passive solar plans for a home.

Properly researched passive solar design for your specific location will result in a home that operates efficiently and comfortably with minimal use of fossil energy. That’s good news for all of us.