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5 Elements of Passive Solar House Design

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When you're building or renovating, it makes good sense to incorporate passive solar design into your plans. The beauty of passive solar design elements is that they do not add substantially to your building costs, but save a great deal on heating and cooling costs. Here's a quick overview of the 5 elements of passive solar house design and some of their applications for passive heating and cooling.

5 Elements of Passive Solar House Design

The 5 elements of passive solar design include:

Aperture/Collector : The ""aperture"" is a large glass area placed in such a way that it collects solar heat energy in the colder months, but is shaded during the hot summer months. Absorber : An absorber is a wall designed to absorb heat during the day and release the heat slowly into the house at night. Brick and masonry walls make ideal absorbers. In a warmer climate, the absorber should not face the sun. Thermal Mass : Like the absorber, the thermal mass is designed to store heat energy. The difference is that the thermal mass is below and/or behind the absorber. Distribution : The distribution of hot or cool air is an important part of passive solar design. Distribution works via three modes of heat transfer: convection, conduction and radiation. Control : Control elements are those elements that passively ""control"" heat distribution seasonally. For example, a roof overhang above the aperture can block the sun during the summer months, but allow sunlight to enter through the aperture (window) during the winter months when the sun is lower on the horizon.

Each of these elements is required for an optimal passive solar house design. They can all be adapted to hotter or cooler climates.

Using the Elements of Passive Solar House Design

No element of passive solar design requires substantial extra building costs because each of them is part of a standard house design. Every house has windows, for example. The "aperture" window should simply be positioned to receive direct sunlight between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm. The "control"element can be a roof overhang or awning that blocks the sun in winter and allows it to enter the home in winter.

In a warmer climate, the absorber and thermal mass elements should be designed to dissipate or block heat transfer rather than absorb and transfer heat into the home. If you live in an area that has hot summers and cold winters, a control element like a roof overhang or deciduous tree can prevent too much heat absorption in the summer and allow heat absorption in winter.

Heat distribution works in a variety of ways. An elevated floor, for example, can collect hot air during the day and radiate it up at night. A simple way to distribute cool, fresh air is to have vents lower down on the wall on the side of the house where prevailing winds strike and passive exhaust vents closer to the ceiling on the opposite side. Since hot air rises, the cool air coming in will force it outdoors.

For help with your passive solar house design, contact sustainable building designers or architects with experience in the field. Most building designers today are familiar with the concepts and are always happy to help you get your design just right for your local climate and building location.

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