Passive Solar Design – Where Do I Start?

Home Remodeling – What Do I Do First?
June 5, 2017
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June 27, 2017

Passive Solar Design – Where Do I Start?

New Homeowner & Remodeling

A couple came to me a couple of weeks ago wanting me to design their new home. They wanted the design to match their lifestyle with the goal of zero energy. That means all energy required by the new home is generated by the house through passive solar design, environment using the sun and the wind & property solar panels, wind turbines. The design would benefit from Passive Solar.

Where do I start? Well, it's only been a long time, 1985, since I thought about a Passive Solar design. I know that sounds terrible in this day and age, but where I hadn't I have been working for the last 30 years, a passive solar design was not a hot topic, no pun intended. Yes, I would design to the minimum standards that California energy standards required. But that was the minimum; I wasn't trying to create homes with the super efficient materials. Why? Because homeowners didn't perceive the value of the designs

Responding To The Market

Where I was designing it wasn't about how energy-efficient you could you could make the house. The focus was how cheaply can you design and build the house. Unfortunately, homeowners perceived passive solar as being too expensive; so they didn't ask for it. Now I have the opportunity to work with a client that wants to achieve zero energy; meaning they are going to use the sun, the wind and the building design to reduce their energy requirements (heating & cooling) and solar to cover their electrical needs. All energy needs for the home will be produced on the property with no off-site electrical required.

So where do you start? Research!. I remember some of the passive solar ideas from school, but that was 30 years ago and technology, I am hoping, has evolved to make the process a little easier. In addition to reading and studying, I've also hired an energy consultant, someone who works with homeowners and architects every day to reduce their energy footprint. We're going to work together on the designs that I come up with and tweak them so that the end design for the home is energy-efficient and we achieve our zero energy goal.


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Passive Solar Basics

Let's begin with the basics. I will be looking at each of the systems of the home. By systems, I mean roof system, floor systems, wall systems, ceiling system, and foundation systems. I am also going to look at all the techniques that we can use to make the home as tight house as possible. A tight house has not been a priority with the weather we have in California. The house I have designed for the last 30 years were incredibly leaky, both in air and energy. Not because of design or construction deficiencies, but how conventional construction in California has been done. Now with rising energy costs and the idea of saving limited resources, we are examining all aspects of home design. A tight house is one factor.

It's worth going to that extra effort of making a tight building. That means caulking around electrical outlets and doing what's called advanced framing. Don't worry we are going to explain all these terms as we go along. There are techniques that you can use that not only save energy while the house is being used but why we're constructing the home. That's the other side of design. There are ways to reduce the amount of material that we need to use in your home construction and advanced framing is one method. We construct with the minimum framing that we need in the wall to support, provide earthquake seismic bracing, and support the roof while reducing the amount of material in a home and the waste from construction. I will discuss all things aspects of the Zero-Energy Home Design in future blog posts.

What is Next?

So what's next? Well after I've hit the books; I'm going to spend the next week reviewing all the techniques of passive solar design. I will do an intensive site analysis of the lot that my client is looking to buy. My Team, energy consultant and a solar consultant, and I are going to use the latest technology to analyze how much sunlight and wind is coming across this property and how we're going to use all those factors in the design of my clients new home.

Stay Tuned!


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