Passive Solar Heating Creates that Patch of Sunlight

Passive Solar Heating Creates that Patch of Sunlight

Maybe it’s because I live in the Midwest and for six months out of the year cannot walk outside and feel warm that I crave the sun.  We Midwesterners and Northerners all scarf, hat, and glove when we brave the elements, hoping for the best.   And when we find a patch of sunlight brightening up our homes while the mercury plunges, we’re happy for that passive solar heat.

The History Channel’s “Sun” episode tells us that the total energy or wattage of the sun is 1 billion watts.  That’s something to harness.  And if we could make that happen, the sun’s power for one minute could power the entire Earth for two days.

That’s why passive solar heating is something to consider—that patch of sunlight and more.  If you talk to a LEED designer he or she can give you the scoop.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  These folks know everything about being green and their certification program emphasizes human and ecological health.  Its sponsored and organized by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Of course LEED people focus on designs that are energy efficient. They also work to improve indoor environmental quality, utilize green materials, develop sustainable sites, and save water.

Builders and LEED designers tell us that a house or building oriented east and west with the majority of windows facing south is the best way to obtain passive solar heating.  It allows the building to get the most direct sunlight for the longest period of time.   Sunlight can easily penetrate windows, but once it enters your rooms it does not leave them as easily.   Inside it breaks up and takes much longer to exit.  That’s good in the winter, when we want passive solar heat to warm our rooms, but it’s a problem in the summer and requires the use of shades or blinds.  Builders who design homes specifically utilizing passive solar heat install attic fans or clerestory windows that can be opened to let the hot air escape when it rises.

The number of windows on the east and west walls of the building should be greatly reduced, and they should be eliminated on the north side of the home.  This is because most cold winter winds come from the north and west and windows do not provide enough protection from strong cold winds.   If you are thinking of remodeling or building a home that will utilize passive solar heating, the orientation of the building on the lot is essential because the home has to have enough sunlight to power its utilities.

My home has some passive solar heating, but it’s more accidental.  Though I have many eastern facing windows, I have fewer on the north side of my home and the most on the south side.  And it’s truly amazing.  At around 11:00 a. m. on a sunny winter day, sunlight lies across the hardwood floor in my family room.  It slides onto a chair at the end of our farm table where I seek it out.  Sometimes I sit on the floor with my lunch and a book.  Sometimes I just sit in it to warm up.

My husband and I have talked seriously about building a geo-solar home.  You can have fun going to the following website and checking out the amazing buildings that designers are creating.  Live in one of these and watch your utility bills melt away.

But as always there’s a hitch, they are not inexpensive.

Yesterday I sat on the bottom step of our stairway where late in the afternoon there’s a great patch of sunlight.  It warms the carpet and I like to sit there after I bring in the mail.  Physicist, C. Johnson, writes that the sun probably can only heat the Earth for a total of 10 billion years.  He comments that since it’s already been dong this for 5 billion, we can probably count on that second 5 billion years unless something drastic occurs.   So go ahead with the plans for that home with passive solar heating, that patch of sunlight will still be there.

2 thoughts on “Passive Solar Heating Creates that Patch of Sunlight

  1. I’d love to have the money to convert my home to solar heating, but it’s not feasible for us now (maybe never if I don’t get working again.) We have a huge sliding glass door to the backyard on the north. I keep telling my husband we need to buy those insulating drapes for it. We can’t put plastic and close off that door because sometimes (on nice days in the winter) we use the grill outdoors. We also put food out in a cooler on that back deck when we’re running out of room in our fridge. 😀 My husband always complains that he “feels the breeze” from the door and windows on all sides of the house. We really need to check into our heating leaks.

    • Lisa–

      Maybe the door just needs some caulking. We live in Iowa and I dread winter. I’m outside even when it’s in the low fifties, just so I can feel the air on my face. Some days I even love shoveling. Beth

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