Passive Solar for New Construction

Passive Solar for New Construction

Going with an off-grid solar system is all about efficiency. For many people, that means retrofitting an existing dwelling with energy efficient updates. But if you are building a new home, there are many opportunities to optimize your home for off-grid living from day one.

One of the best ways to cut down on a new home’s energy needs is through passive solar design. By designing a home to get the most passive benefit from the sun, you can cut down on both heating and cooling needs. And since the average household’s heating and cooling makes up 21% of their overall energy usage, passive solar is a great way to save on energy needs.

Passive Solar Basics

When you mention passive solar, most people think of large, south-facing windows. And while that is an element of passive solar design, there is much more to than just windows. The basis of a passive solar system is built around a home’s southern exposure.

South-facing windows collect a large amount of heat into the home during the day and a large thermal mass (usually brick/masonry/concrete floors and walls) absorbs that heat. The thermal mass then slowly releases that heat during the cooler evening and night hours.

But there’s more to designing a passive solar property than just southern exposure. There are also considerations of shading, insulation, air movement, site selection, and landscaping.

Passive Solar Heating

The primary benefit of passive solar comes in its ability to provide heat during the cold winter months, and in Colorado and Utah, that is a huge benefit. For heating with passive solar, there are things to keep in mind:

  1. Site Selection: Your building site should have an unobstructed view of the southern sky. This will allow you to get plenty of exposure during the winter when the sun falls farther to the south.
  2. Windows: There should be a bank of windows that face within 30 degrees of south. This ensures that your thermal mass will receive enough heat to provide you will noticeable gains.
  3. Air Movement: The heat gains will be focused on your southern side. If the house is large, you may need to invest in a way to circulate that air throughout the house. Fans and blowers can be temperature controlled and serve to balance out temperatures.

The Future: A perfect site today can be ruined by tomorrow’s developments. Consider mature landscape and neighboring construction projects when designing a passive solar house.

While any house can benefit from basic passive solar principles, there are professional designers that can help you get every bit of benefit from the sun. If your goal is to go off-grid, it is probably worth hiring a passive solar expert to help design your home.

Passive Solar in the Summer

All the above is great during the winter, but what do you do during the warmer spring and summer months? Nobody wants to heat their house during the already hot summers of western Colorado and eastern Utah.

There are several ways to prevent your house from overheating during the summer. The simplest of those is to provide shade to your southern windows during the summer – but without blocking your access to winter sun. Summer shade can be achieved with larger eaves (which block the higher summer sun), insulated shutters, and retractable awnings.

Beyond creating shade, you can also set temperature controlled fans to remove over-heated air to the outside and draw fresh air in during the night. The exact details of how to maintain comfortable temperatures during the summer are best handled by a professional passive solar expert.

Off-Grid Solar Solutions

A design that takes advantage of passive solar gains is the perfect candidate for an off-grid solar system and the built-in energy savings help to reduce the need for on-site electricity production. When combined with efficient appliances, fixtures, and insulation, an off-grid dwelling becomes much more achievable.

At Mountain Power Solutions, we specialize in providing off-grid solar systems to western Colorado and eastern Utah. If you’re interested in pursuing energy independence, give us a call today!