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Moreland Architecture
Moreland Architecture

Passive Solar Design

Sustainable, earth-friendly buildings are often thought of as only for those with extra money to toss around.  This does not have to be the case.  High-tech solutions such as solar photovoltaic panels and specialty high efficiency lighting can certainly drive up costs, but low-tech concepts need not.  If done well, they can actually save money.  One such low-tech concept is passive solar design which encourages the thoughtful orientation of windows, doors, skylights, roofs and roof overhangs.

Passive solar design is very specific to local climate.  It is often worthwhile to take cues from vernacular buildings of the region, those structures which were built prior to contemporary conveniences such as air conditioning and reliable electric lighting.  Then, even more than now, it was critical to balance the need to keep direct sunlight from warming the interior of the building in the summer while allowing enough indirect sunlight to perform visual tasks indoors.  Northern climates could strike a balance between blocking the high angle direct sun in the summer and allowing the lower angle warming sun in the winter. Sub-tropical climates such as Florida could forego warming in the winter, but would try to maximize natural wind for cooling air circulation.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, north-facing windows are key to allowing indirect light in while keeping direct light out.  Roof overhangs on the south side can be carefully designed to block direct sunlight from windows until a specific time of year when the warmth of direct sunlight could be desired.  East and West windows, due to the low morning and afternoon sun, will benefit more from vertical louvers, but overhangs can also help to a certain extent.

Contrary to popular belief, the warmest part of the day is typically not noon.  Even though the sun’s direct rays are hottest at noon, the ambient air temperature experiences a lag time in warming up.  Depending on weather patterns, the highest temperatures are usually reached between 1 and 4pm.  With this in mind, the most critical building facade for passive solar design in a hot climate is the one that faces west.

One approach to passive solar design in South Florida is to orient the building and arrange the interior rooms and functions so that so-called “back of house” programs (closets, mechanical rooms, laundry rooms, etc.) are located at the west facade.  Since these spaces need few to no windows, one can save money by excluding unnecessary windows and at the same time reduce direct solar heat gain.  Through careful consideration, sustainable design can actually save money and energy at the same time.

Fri, August 17 2012 » Best Practices, Commercial, Energy Efficiency, General, Residential

4 Responses

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Moreland on Trapp
Location: Miami, FL
Project Status: Design Development
Project Type: Single Family LEED home - Projected LEED Platinum
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