The concept of orienting a home, building, or shelter to take advantage of the warmth of the sun has been in practice for centuries. Natives all over the world, whether nomadic or pueblo, knew the advantages of orienting their shelters and homes to maximize heat in the winter.
These days many custom and green builders take solar orientation into account when designing new homes. The concept of passive solar thermal heating for winter is becoming more well known in the mainstream building and home-ownership communities.
In past decades, however, many homes have been built without much thought as to where they were located or how they were oriented. Houses have been built in holes, on hilltops, in dense clusters, and certainly out in the middle of nowhere.
If you are in a home that you would like to be more green, more efficient, or simply naturally warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, it may be perfectly do-able. Here are a few things to consider:
The first thing to determine is how much sun exposure your home gets. If your home is in the middle of a dense forest, down in a deep valley, sandwiched between tall buildings, or on a west-facing slope (in the northern hemisphere) you may have a problem with plans to capture enough sunlight to make passive solar gain a reality.
In most cases, though, this is not a big issue. In New Mexico, most homes are exposed to plenty of sunlight. Around here, there is a good chance that up to 50% of your home has direct solar exposure.
Grab some paper and a pencil (or a tape-measure and Google Sketchup if you are a perfectionist like me), and sketch out your home, floorplan, and even nearby trees, buildings, hills and so on. You should only need to sketch out trees and structures within about 150′ foot radius on your home as these will have the most impact on blocking sunlight to your walls and windows. Chances are, if you have lived in your home through at least four seasons, you will already have a good idea of your homes exposure level, hot spots, cold spots, and so forth.
Once you know your approximate solar exposure you can then determine how to implement a passive solar remodel.
You may need to consider changing your floor plan for your passive solar design to work. If the interior of your exposure wall is made up of closets or mechanical rooms you may need to consider changing around some walls and such. In some cases it takes very little remodeling to implement a passive solar plan. In many homes this can be as simple as installing large windows on your exposed wall, laying brick or tile floors and walls, and inserting wall vents to create circulation that heats adjoining spaces.
If you want to do more research on the specific strategies and types of materials used for passive solar systems, check out these handy links:
If you live in the northern half of New Mexico and would like to schedule a consultation and estimate please give us a call!
Kodama Construction, LLC. 505-699-8862