Take Advantage of Passive Solar Energy
Energy costs continue to rise at an alarming rate. It’s time to investigate some alternative sources of energy, some that you can utilize in your current home without excessive investment. In addition to saving you money (up to 50 percent of your current energy tab), alternative energy sources, such as solar power, are more environmentally friendly than nuclear power, coal and gas.
Did you know that you don’t have to buy solar panels in order to capitalize on solar energy? Using what’s referred to in the business as “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. Obviously, these types of techniques can only be used through original house design or major home remodeling.
But if you have these features, 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. This includes landscaping, furniture and decorative items. Use insulating draperies on south-facing windows to reduce heat loss during the night and during cloudy weather.
Other things you can do to effectively employ sunlight include scrupulous energy conservation. Make sure that your insulation is adequate. Use weather-stripping around windows and doors. Removeable insulation is available for use on doors and windows at night and during cloudy weather to hold on to heat.
You may also consider building an attached solar greenhouse onto your home. They are usually inexpensive to build, and there are other benefits besides heat: food, beauty, and additional room.
Thoughtful placing of landscaping vegetation 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 hot water heaters have two features—a collector and a storage tank. The various system designs can be classified as passive or active and as direct (also called open loop) or indirect (also called closed loop). The passive system design operates without pumps or controls and is typically more reliable, durable, easier to maintain, longer lasting, and less expensive to operate than active systems.
Both active and passive solar water heating systems often require "conventional" water heaters as backups, or the solar systems function as preheaters for the conventional units. A direct solar water heating system circulates household water through collectors and is not appropriate in climates in which freezing temperatures occur. Indirect systems can be used in freezing climes as their systems use antifreeze.
Compare products from different manufacturers before making the investment in a solar water heater. The Solar Rating & Certification Corporation publishes performance ratings of both solar water heating systems, the results of independent, third party laboratory testing of these products. All systems and collectors that have been certified by the SRCC will bear the SRCC label. Just having an SRCC label does not guarantee that the product is superior. Be sure to shop around. Install the heater properly and practice proper maintenance procedures for maximum system performance.
Remember that 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.
Passive solar design not only helps heat homes, it also aids in summer cooling. How is this possible? Thermal mass resists overheating, direct earth contact through slab-on-grade, and earth sheltering all contribute to cooling in hot weather. 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 reflects away excess heat.
During the hottest months, some passive solar home owners put soaker hoses along the ridge of their roofs. The water evaporates before reaching the eaves, which produces an evaporative cooling effect.
If you're building a house, consider incorporating more passive solar energy techniques in the design. It will lower your energy bills, make use of a limitless energy source, and the environment will thank you for it.
Photography credit: Alberto Castillo Q.