Good Home Design: Active solar vs. Passive Solar

Good Home Design:  Active solar vs. Passive Solar

There’s are a lot of solar terminology out there; solar flare, solar death ray, solar storm, passive solar, solar system, active solar.  I’m talking about active and passive solar right now.  Active solar systems are sophisticated electrical, mechanical, or plumbing systems that use the suns energy to create electricity or store heat.  Most people think “solar panel” when they hear “solar”.  Active solar is seductive technology.  Passive solar is the workhorse of solar.  A good passive solar design or renovation to your home is going to add far more energy and value to your home.  It’s also cheaper.  Passive solar homes have better insulation and window orientation that allows winter sun in to heat and shades summer sun for cooling.  A passive solar home feels better to live in.  It’s also no coincidence that passive solar design and good feng shui have a lot in common.

This passive solar house has lots of windows but it also has extra long overhangs and a drop in trellis system to block summer sun.

This passive solar house has lots of windows but it also has extra long overhangs and a drop in trellis system to block summer sun.

When I get called out to someones house to do a solar site visit, I’m not just looking for a spot to mount panels, I’m evaluating the whole solar resource.  In many instances, adding solar panels to the home falls low on the list of energy saving projects for a home.  Most of the homes I see are built without passive solar design in mind.  People are blaring their air conditioners while the summer sun pours in or they are freezing in the winter because of their “view” from that big north window.  Adding insulated curtains to a drafty window, a removable summer sunshade to to the exterior of a window, or in some case adding in a southern window can all be affordable solar projects to lower you power bill.

Sometimes I get called out to a job during early construction.  They have the plans in hand, a “non passive solar design” already purchased from an architect, and they tell me to make it a solar house, or that they want to be “off grid”.  Technically, it’s not too late to change the house design.   You might spend a little money upfront changing your design but your energy savings will pay it off quickly.  I know it’s frustrating when you’ve poured over house plans for months and now that you finally have a design they can both agree, the solar guy comes out to tell you it’s no good.  Some people don’t want to hear my passive solar pitch.  Such a tragedy, yet I’ve seen it so many times.  All I wanted to do was move some windows around…..

Don’t get duped into believing that spending $30k on solar panels is the only way to add solar power and value to your home.  Power that you don’t use is money saved and passive solar design will help you use less.  Call me out for a straight shootin’ solar site visit.  You might be living in a solar house and not even know it.

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