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Passive solar home positioning


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By Mike in Issaquah, WA on 9/13/2006


My wife and I are about ready to finalize our house plans and start the permitting process. We will be building in the Pacific Northwest, not far from Seattle. In our design, the living area has a vaulted ceiling and many large south-facing windows which we intend to leverage for passive solar energy during the winter. I am concerned that these large windows will turn our living area into a sauna during the summer if they are not adequately shaded by the eave of the roof. I created a drawing of our home in Google SketchUp and Google Earth so that I could see how the position of the sun casts shadows on the windowed wall during certain times of the year. There is no problem in the winter; the sun shines on those windows all day long and should provide some nice extra warmth.

During the summer months however, the windows are exposed to the sun at different times depending on how I orient the house. If I orient the windowed walls so that they face due south, the windows get some sun until about 4 pm, then they are shaded. If I rotate the windowed wall 30 degrees towards the east, the windows get more intense sun in the morning until 2 pm, then get some nice shade. Am I better off with the more intense sun in the morning so that the hot hours of the day (late afternoon/early evening) are spent in the deep shade? Or am I better off avoiding the intense sunlight in the morning? Thanks for any input you have. -Mike
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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 9/14/2006


I think you have a good start on the problem. Have you added into your sketch the fact that during the summer the sun is higher in the sky? You may be able to resolve some of the concerns with overhangs. Generally you can decide what day you want to cut off the sun in the spring as the sun climbs, unless you are too far north and the sun is more horizontal.

The link explains how to approach solving the issue.
ntua.gr/arch/geometry/tns/shadecad/

This link will help calculate sun angle at various times of day and year for your location   susdesign.com/sunangle/

Generally one wants to orientate the long axis towards solar noon. Depending on solar heat gain you may want to minimize windows facing west where it is difficult to shade. Or plant deciduous trees to provide summer shading.

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By Mike in Issaquah, WA on 9/16/2006


It looks like we are too far north to solve the problem with overhangs. The overhangs would need to be very large to the point that they would stick out like a sore thumb. Good point about the deciduous trees; I had forgotten that we have several maple trees to the west of the house which will block the early evening sun. After including those in my drawings we can stick with our original plan of postioning the windowed wall due south.
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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 9/16/2006


This is a common error. When we forget to take all the site features into consideration of planning our home.

The ones with the hardest time are those who are moving up from a starter tract home where the entire subdivision was forced onto the land. Your choice is left or right orientation and a bay window on the nook. Then everyone gets the $750 basic landscape package to replace everything that was ripped out. Rainwater flows down the gutter and disappears instead of used on site.

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By Dave in Coarsegold, CA on 9/25/2006


Hi Mike,

A great book on passive solar is "The Solar House" by Daniel Chiras.  I'm going to use several of the ideas from it in my own house design, and am planning to be very careful about the south facing glazing.  Of course, down here our summers are already scorching, so special care is required for summer exposure.  We're planning a 2-story with overhangs on both floors on the south side to shade the windows in the summer. 

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By Bill in Seattle, WA on 12/28/2006


My son and daughter-in-law's house in Kent faces west, but is probably 70% windows for the living room. It does get darned hot in the Summer.

I recommend turning it for more sun in the morning. That's when you really need it anyway.
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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 12/29/2006


Facing south will increase your winter solar heat gain. You may want to consider increasing the mass where the sun shines to improve thermal storage.

Good glass in your windows will make a big difference. If you to the PPG website and look at some of their architectural glass ideas (in a variety of colors) you get some great performance for a reasonable cost. Or check with your local Oldcastle glass dealer for some local based ideas.

Don't limit yourself to stock factory window ideas. Sometimes commercial types of solutions are actually cheaper than common residential products.

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