You don’t have to buy solar panels in order to capitalize on solar energy. Using “passive solar design,” homeowners can design their homes in such a way as to help heat their homes through solar energy utilization.
Passive solar design includes such techniques as installing large, insulated windows on the house’s south side. These windows maximize winter sunlight but absorb no direct sunlight in the summertime. Putting in a heat absorbing wall or concrete slab floor next to the windows locates thermal mass.
A few tips will help you maximize the benefits of solar heating. Regularly clean south facing windows. Dirt reduces the amount of energy the windows can absorb. Ensure that nothing is blocking sunlight from the concrete slab floors or heat absorbing walls. Use insulating draperies on south-facing windows to reduce heat loss during the night and during cloudy weather.
Make sure that your insulation is adequate. Use weather-stripping around windows and doors. Removable insulation is available for use on doors and windows at night and during cloudy weather to hold on to heat.
Thoughtful landscape placement is a must. Plant deciduous trees, shrubs and vines on the east and west sides of your house for cooling purposes. Place evergreen foliage on the north side to block winter winds.
A solar hot water heater can also be added to existing structures. A properly designed, installed and maintained solar water heater can meet from half to nearly all of a home's hot water demand. Solar water heating systems often require "conventional" water heaters as backups, or the solar systems function as preheaters for the conventional units.
While the initial cost of solar water heaters is much higher than conventional units, lower operating costs help solar water heaters to pay for themselves within a few years of use. A radiant barrier placed in the attic or roof system can reflect up to 97 percent of radiant heat, keeping excess heat in summer out of the house. Light colored roofing also helps.
During the hottest months, some passive solar homeowners put soaker hoses along the ridge of their roofs. The water evaporates before reaching the eaves, which produces an evaporative cooling effect.
If you build a house in the future, consider incorporating these techniques into the design. It will lower your energy bills, make use of a limitless energy source, and the environment will thank you for it.
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