Passive Solar House: Design Tips

Passive Solar House Design Tips

Passive solar style takes advantage of a building’s site, climate, and products to lessen energy use.

Design for Passive Solar House

A well-designed passive solar home first reduces heating and cooling loads through energy-efficiency strategies then satisfies those reduced loads in entire or part with solar energy. Because of the small heating loads of modern-day homes it is essential to avoid oversizing south-facing glass and make sure that south-facing glass is correctly shaded to prevent overheating and increased cooling loads in the spring and fall.


Prior to you include solar functions to your brand-new home style or existing house, bear in mind that energy performance is the most affordable method for decreasing heating and air conditioning bills. Select structure experts experienced in energy-efficient house style and building and deal with them to optimize your home’s energy performance. If you’re renovating an existing home, the first step is to have a home energy audit to focus on the most economical energy efficiency enhancements.


If you’re preparing a brand-new passive solar home, a part southern side of your house need to have an unblocked “view” of the sun. Think about possible future uses of the land to the south of your site– little trees become high trees, and a future multi-story building can obstruct your home’s access to the sun. In some areas, zoning or other land use guidelines protect landowners’ solar access. If solar gain access to isn’t secured in your area, try to find a lot that is deep from north to south and place the house on the north end of the lot.


In basic terms, a passive solar home gathers heat as the sun shines through south-facing windows and retains it in products that keep heat, known as thermal mass. The share of the home’s heating load that the passive solar design can satisfy is called the passive solar portion, and depends on the area of glazing and the amount of thermal mass. The perfect ratio of thermal mass to glazing differs by environment. Well-designed passive solar houses likewise provide daylight all year and convenience during the cooling season through making use of nighttime ventilation.

To be successful, a passive solar home style should consist of some fundamental elements that interact:

Effectively oriented windows. Typically, windows or other devices that collect solar power should face within 30 degrees of true south and should not be shaded during the heating season by other structures or trees from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. During the spring, fall, and cooling season, the windows ought to be shaded to prevent overheating. Make sure to keep window glass clean.

Thermal mass. Thermal mass in a passive solar home– commonly concrete, brick, stone, and tile– takes in heat from sunshine during the heating season and soaks up heat from warm air in the house during the cooling season. Other thermal mass products such as water and stage change products are more effective at keeping heat, however masonry has the advantage of doing double duty as a structural and/or finish material. In well-insulated houses in moderate climates, the thermal mass fundamental in home furnishings and drywall might suffice, getting rid of the need for additional thermal storage products. Ensure that objects do not block sunshine on thermal mass materials.

Distribution mechanisms. Solar heat is moved from where it is collected and kept to various areas of your house by conduction, convection, and radiation. In some houses, little fans and blowers help distribute heat. Conduction happens when heat moves in between two objects that are in direct contact with each other, such as when a sun-heated floor warms your bare feet. Convection is heat transfer through a fluid such as air or water, and passive solar houses often use convection to move air from warmer areas– a sunspace, for example– into the rest of the house. Radiation is what you feel when you stand next to a wood stove or a bright window and feel its heat on your skin. Darker colors take in more heat than lighter colors, and are a much better choice for thermal mass in passive solar houses.

Control methods. Effectively sized roof overhangs can supply shade to vertical south windows during summer months. Other control approaches include electronic sensing devices, such as a differential thermostat that signals a fan to turn on; operable vents and dampers that enable or restrict heat circulation; low-emissivity blinds; operable insulating shutters; and awnings.


Although conceptually easy, an effective passive solar home needs that a number of details and variables come into balance. A knowledgeable designer can use a computer model to simulate the information of a passive solar home in various setups until the design fits the site along with the owner’s spending plan, aesthetic choices, and efficiency requirements.

Some of the components the designer will think about include:

  • Insulation and air sealing
  • Window area, glazing type, and window shading
  • Thermal mass location and type.
  • Auxiliary cooling and heating systems

The designer will apply these elements utilizing passive solar style strategies that consist of direct gain, indirect gain, and isolated gain.


In a direct gain style, sunshine goes into your house through south-facing windows and strikes masonry floors and/or walls, which soak up and save the solar heat. As the room cools during the night, the thermal mass releases heat into your house.

Some home builders and property owners use water-filled containers located inside the home to absorb and keep solar heat. Although water stores two times as much heat as masonry materials per cubic foot of volume, water thermal storage requires thoroughly developed structural support. A benefit of water thermal storage is that it can be installed in an existing home if the structure can support the weight.


An indirect-gain passive solar home has its thermal storage in between the south-facing windows and the home. The most typical indirect-gain approach is a Trombe wall.

Passive Solar House Design Tips

The wall includes an 8-inch to 16-inch thick masonry wall on the south side of a house. A single or double layer of glass mounted about one inch or less in front of the dark-colored wall soaks up solar heat, which is kept in the wall’s mass. The heat migrates through the wall and radiates into the living space. Heat travels through a masonry wall at a typical rate of one inch per hour, so the heat absorbed on the outside of an 8-inch thick concrete wall at midday will enter the interior living space around 8 p.m.


The most common isolated-gain passive solar home design is a sunspace that can be blocked from the house with doors, windows, and other operable openings. Likewise referred to as a sun parlor, solar space, or solarium, a sunspace can be consisted of in a new home style or added to an existing home.

Sunspaces should not be puzzled with greenhouses, which are developed to grow plants. Sunspaces serve 3 primary functions– they supply auxiliary heat, a warm area to grow plants, and an enjoyable living area. The design considerations for these 3 functions are extremely various, and accommodating all 3 functions needs compromises.


Experienced passive solar home designers prepare for summer convenience along with winter season heating. A passive solar house requires cautious style and siting, which vary by local climate conditions.

In most climates, an overhang or other devices, such as awnings, shutters, and trellises will be essential to obstruct summer season solar heat gain. Landscaping can also assist keep your passive solar home comfy during the cooling season. If you are considering passive solar design for a brand-new home or a significant remodel, seek advice from an architect knowledgeable about passive solar methods.

Last updated on September 16th, 2019

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