Passive Solar: Utilizing Earth’s Natural Heating & Cooling Systems

From the start of my work on energy efficiency projects at SBC one emerging technique has caught my eye: passive solar building. The Sierra Nevada Energy Watch (SNEW) team is constantly learning about new ways to reduce energy bills through retrofits targeted at mechanical systems like lighting, motors, pumps, and heating and cooling systems. But what if we could go one step further and gain heating and cooling elements from the natural world? Think it’s impossible? Think again! Passive Solar building techniques assist a building in heating itself in the winter and cooling itself in the summer.

COMM IN PassiveSolar Blog 2014 09Passive solar building techniques design windows, walls, and floors to collect, store, and distribute solar energy. First, in the winter months passive solar allows the building to take advantage of natural heating by orienting the building South on an East-West axis. The building also needs to have large windows and some type of thermal mass in the floors and walls of the house. As the winter sun shines in the thermal mass absorbs the heat during the day and radiates it back into the house at night. This can really cut down on heating needs in the winter and will keep your feet warm!

Second, passive solar techniques can help cool a building in the hot summer months. The passive solar techniques for cooling can be built into the same structure that takes advantage of winter heating. Some of these techniques include having awnings over windows so hot summer sun does not blast into the house, or orienting the windows in the direction where nighttime winds flow from. The cooler nighttime winds breeze through the house at night cooling the thermal mass and this helps keep the home cool the next day, all throughout the summer. These building techniques not only save energy and money, they make for a more comfortable and enjoyable home or commercial space.

If you are passionate about passive solar homebuilding and design, we want you to join us for Sierra Business Councils 20th Anniversary Peak Innovation Conference ( Passive solar design and techniques are great ways to bring about large scale social, economic, and environmental change in the Sierra Nevada – Bring your knowledge and passion of passive solar design to the conference and help us lead the Sierra Nevada to greatness!