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Passive Solar Home Design

There is much talk about using solar energy to generate power, but at time we forget that we can harness the suns energy to heat and cool our homes by clever design.  There are relatively simple changes to basic home design that make our homes more comfortable simply by understanding the orientation of your house and using well understood methods of blocking or allowing the energy of the sun into your home.

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Passive solar heating
This relies on sunlight passing through windows or storing the heat in "heat sink" that traps and releases their warmth over a long period of time.  Passive solar cooling however, relies on preventing sunlight to enter a structure and several other techniques, or by creating convection currents drawing air into the building as a cooling breeze.  None of these are new technologies, ancient cultures used these ideas hundreds of years ago.

Window Direction
The orientation of the windows is critical for solar heating. In the southern hemisphere, windows facing due north, while in the northern hemisphere, south facing windows allow passive solar heat to warm the house during the day. To maximise the heat gain, the house should have a "heat sink"  or trap that warms up and release the stored wamrth slowly. This is usually as simple as the normal concrete slab a house is built on.  It can be more innovative such as a wall of water filled containers "bottles" built into a wall.
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Window Type
For efficient winter warming of your home, you need to maximise window to wall ration so the sun can shine in and heat your room and floor area.  The ideal windows for passive solar heating are high efficiency windows, often multi-paned, gas-filled windows.  When used with good wall, ceiling and floor insulation are highly effective. Retrofitting an existing home with high efficiency windows and expanding the surface area of those windows on the sun faceing side of the house will both increase the overall energy efficiency of the home and take advantage of passive solar heating.

Passive Cooling
Passive solar cooling is a technique of shading windows during the summer to prevent solar heat from entering the home. This can be as simple as eaves of the proper depth to cut out sun in summer but allow the lower angled winter sun to fall further into the home through the windows.  Alternatively a "solar pergola" with angled slats that only allow sun to shine between the angled rafters when at a lower angle later in the day, thius shading the side wall & windows during the hottest time of day.  Deciduous trees can also shade windows in the summer but allow sunlight to strike the windows in the winter. This creates a natural heating system in the winder and natural cooling in the summer.  Trees also provide cooling to any airflow from their transpiration.

The use of curtains while decorative and useful, are often not needed in a well designed solar passive home.  This allows greater access to outdoor views. There are many ways to provide passive cooling and heating to a home, even if it is older and the ideas are being retro-fitted. 

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